The first case of the much-talked-about Lambda variant of Covid-19 was reported by Los Angeles health officials on Thursday. But for all the fanfare, Lambda doesn’t seem to have been much of a match for Delta – yet.
“We’ve only seen one Lambda variant among tests sequenced in our labs, and this was a sample from June,” said L.A. County Director of Public Health Barbara Ferrer. The fact that Lambda was sequenced in June and has not been found since would seem to indicate it’s not spreading rapidly — if at all — in the county which, according to Ferrer, saw the powerful Delta variant account for “99% of all sequences last week.”
Lambda was first identified in Peru in December 2020, according to the World Health Organization. It’s become the dominant strain in South America, spread overseas and been identified as a variant of interest by WHO. Scientists are still trying to understand whether Lambda is more transmissible, but a July study, which has yet to be peer reviewed, indicated Lambda may be able to evade vaccines.
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Los Angeles only genomically sequences a small number of positive test samples every week which are flagged by medical experts as possible variants of interest or concern.
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But even statewide, the number of Lambda variants seems to be very small. California analyzes a considerably higher number of tests than its largest county — though in July it scrutinized only 5% of all Covid cases identified. As of August 11th 99,260 samples have been sequenced in California. Only 152 Lambda infections were identified, the first possibly as early as 2020, according to CalMatters citing state public health officials.
The state posted an updated list of variants sequenced to date on Friday which did not include numbers for Lambda, but noted “this is not a complete list of sequences completed to date.” It did, however, indicate that sequences of the Delta variant had risen to 10,507. That’s nearly a fivefold increase from the 2,142 instances of Delta identified as of July 14, which was a sevenfold increase over 286 Delta-related cases found on June 9. Delta made those leaps even though it didn’t register on the state’s April tally.
One prominent database shows only 914 Lambda variant cases in the U.S. to date, and only 14 identified in the past two weeks.
If Lambda was here as early as last year and is only now beginning to register significant numbers in state and national sequencing, it’s thusfar been out-competed by the more recently arrived and now dominant Delta variant.