Saying that the COVID-19 pandemic is nearing its end can never be further from the truth. While multiple COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out in different parts of the world, our attempts at protecting ourselves seem to be trickier than ever. Just as we continue to adapt to the current state, so does the COVID-19 virus. Premier health institutions worldwide are still looking for certain coronavirus mutations and variants, especially those that might be deadly or highly contagious.
The Philippines recently recorded its first Lambda COVID-19 variant here in the country last August 15, 2021. A week later, the country recorded yet another 14,749 new coronavirus cases. This sets the record for the second-largest daily COVID case increase in the Philippines.
The country, as of August 15, already has a total of 1.74 million confirmed infections. The same day, the Department of Health (DOH) also reported an additional 270 deaths, the third-highest one-day spike in fatalities, increasing the death toll to 30,340.
Our health, trade, business, economy, travel, and immigration sectors continue to suffer great losses. With these confirmed cases of Lambda variant of COVID-19 here in the Philippines, casualties will be more likely to add up with significant figures.
As the coronavirus mutates, the resulting variants may be more infectious or aggressive. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and other top medical institutions monitor these emerging variants.
Viruses constantly evolve and change through mutation. That is why keeping a close eye on these mutations can better protect and prepare us for the future.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Delta and Lambda Variants
Going deeper into the workings of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can get too overwhelming, so here’s a list of frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 Delta and Lambda variants and how to protect yourself from them.
How many COVID-19 variants are there?
Currently, notable variants are closely monitored in the United States and the rest of the world. The most widespread is the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) which was first detected in December 2020 in the US. Next is the Beta variant (B.1.351), which was initially detected in December 2020 in South Africa.
The Gamma variant (P.1) was first seen in travelers coming from Brazil early this year. It was detected through routine screening at an airport in Japan.
Next is the Delta variant (B.1.617.2), initially detected in December last year in India. This last one being the most contagious of all the SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Lastly, the Lambda variant (C.37), which was first identified in Peru. It was first classified as a variant of interest and showed results of resistance to vaccine-induced antibodies.
These three classes of SARS-CoV-2 variants include the following:
- Variant of Interest – includes variants with specific genetic markers that might influence transmission rate, diagnostics, the efficacy of treatment, and severity of the disease.
- Variant of Concern – includes variants that have evidence of reduced efficacy of treatments and vaccines, higher transmission rate, and increase in severity of the disease.
- Variant of High Consequence – includes variants that have clear evidence of a significant reduction in vaccine effectiveness and diagnostics, as well as more severe clinical diseases brought on by the virus. So far, no SARS-CoV-2 variants are under this classification.
What is the Delta Variant?
The Delta variant is a virus strain or variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is the most contagious of all the variants we have faced so far. With its rate of transmission, the Delta variant is considered highly contagious and “will certainly accelerate the pandemic,” according to Yale Medicine epidemiologist F. Perry Wilson, MD.
The variant originally surfaced in India last December 2020, which spread throughout the entire country at an alarming speed. It then swept across Great Britain as well, where it was first identified.
According to researchers, the Delta variant is around 50% more contagious than the Alpha variant, which is also classified under “variants of concern.” This classification was developed by the US SIG (SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group) to categorize the different COVID-19 variants for easier monitoring.
What is the Lamba Variant?
WHO first classified the new Lambda variant as a variant of interest upon its discovery in Peru. This same strain is now spreading rapidly in South America and Southeast Asia. Its laboratory studies showed it has mutations that resist vaccine-induced antibodies. This means that the Lambda can resist vaccines.
Two studies done in Japan and New York have also shown that the Lambda variant is more contagious than the older variants.
Researchers also warn people of theserious ongoing threat of these new variants. Though there is no peer-reviewed study confirming that the Lambda variant is more dangerous than the Delta one, it is best to prepare ahead and make extra precautions.
Why is the Delta variant highly contagious?
As the virus transfers from one person to another, it also creates versions of itself. This is called a mutation that creates changes in the behavior of the virus.
According to a study published by Guangdong Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Delta variant spreads more rapidly in a person’s respiratory system, especially in their respiratory tract. This particular variant or strain contains mutations on its spike protein, making it easier for the virus to attach and infect healthy human cells, particularly in the nose and lungs.
This means that the Delta variant spreads much faster than the Alpha variant and the original strain of the coronavirus. According to the same study, those infected with the Delta variant have about a thousand more copies of the coronavirus in their respiratory tracts. This is much higher compared to individuals who are infected with the original strain.
On average, the delta variant is detectable within four days of infection. That makes it faster than the typical six days for the original coronavirus strain. This means that infected people are more likely to spread the Delta variant early on during their infection.
Most doctors would strictly advise persons who had contact with people who contracted COVID-19 to immediately go into quarantine for 14 days. It is also essential that you wear masks and follow all minimum health regulations and protocols.
Are the new COVID-19 variants more deadly?
The short answer is no. As for the Delta variant, it is not necessarily more deadly. Rather than being more deadly, the Delta variant is highly contagious. This means that it can easily spread from one person to another, making the virus more aggressive than ever. As a result, there are higher chances of getting more infections, leading to complications and severe sickness.
The more mutations a virus undergoes, the more dangerous and contagious it becomes. According to Robert Bollinger, an expert in SARS-CoV-2 and professor of infectious diseases, “more infections from a faster-spreading variant will lead to more deaths.”
The Lambda variant is also not more deadly. It is just a version of the virus that can evade the effects of the currently available vaccines. This is based on the study by CoronaVac, the manufacturer for Sinovac, which makes up a large percentage of the Philippine vaccine supply.
The Lambda variant also causes concern because it is highly infectious as observed in the countries where they have been detected. Lastly, the Lambda variant was observed to be more infectious to the younger population. Though researches are still ongoing, the initial findings show that more youth aged 13-18 years old tested positive for this new variant. To summarize, the Delta variant is more dangerous because it spreads fast. The Lambda variant, on the other hand, is more infectious, can evade vaccines, and affect younger people. This then makes it harder to contain and increasing the chance of more people getting infected.
Is Lambda more dangerous than the Delta variant?
There is no conclusive research yet to say that the Lambda variant is more dangerous than the Delta one. All we know so far is that our currently available vaccines are less effective against the Lambda variant than it is against the Delta one. Furthermore, the Lambda variant also affects more young people, which makes its containment more challenging.
But science explains that virus mutations are normal as the virus adapts to its carrier. However normal, this continuous mutation poses a threat to society. That is why scientists continuously study the virus side-by-side with their global effects to give insights on the global vaccination programs.
How does the new COVID-19 variants affect us and the rest of the world?
This pandemic has led to a great loss of human life around the globe, and it still presents an unparalleled challenge to public health. The rise of new variants is expected to cause more economic and social disruptions. That means we may not be able to go back to our pre-pandemic lifestyle even with the vaccines.
Millions of small and big enterprises face an existential threat. Nearly half of the world’s global workforce is at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods. Informal economy workers and overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) experience the same threat.
People without social protection and access to healthcare will take most of the impact of these new variants. More employees might experience significant pressures on their financial security, with almost half having either their hours of work reduced or their pay cut.
COVID-19 has also greatly affected trade and logistics because of the supply chain disruption. This can lead to a spike in prices of goods and the delay of supply distribution around the world. There is also an imbalance in the exports and imports due to shipping delays because of continuous lockdown in port areas and the shortage of vessels available for loading. Many industries were forced to slow down, and some were even forced to shut down.
During this pandemic, crises in food security, public health, and employment and labor issues, in particular workers’ health and safety, converge.
What’s the best way to avoid the new variants?
The best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 and its variants is to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Scientists are still looking at the effectiveness of vaccines and the possibility of the Delta and Lambda variants causing breakthrough cases. However, such cases are quite rare.
Vaccines are the most effective public health interventions we have at present. This is our best help in boosting the antibodies in our system to recognize and fight the COVID-19 virus. Though they may be less effective against new variants, it gives your body protection against at least one of the many forms of the virus.
Although a lot is still hesitant to take this vaccine, health experts already proved that vaccines work. Side effects are normal such as fever, pain in the injection area, nausea, vomiting, and others more. It is likely to occur until 3-5 days after the vaccination. But there is nothing to worry about as these are normal responses of our bodies.
If you are part of a group of people with allergies and other pre-existing health conditions, make sure to get clearance from your doctor. If you are unsure, seek the help of a medical professional before making a decision.
If vaccines are not yet available, the best practice is to comply with the minimum health regulations. These are simple things like wearing face masks and staying at home as much as possible.
With the country on the verge of going back to day one of community quarantine, it feels like the pandemic’s just beginning again. But with our experience and preparation from the previous year, we can now make smarter decisions to keep ourselves and our homes healthier.
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