Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines work against 'more lethal and infectious' Lambda variant which has now been spotted in 31 countries

Pfizer and Moderna's Covid vaccines are both effective against the troublesome Lambda variant, scientists believe. The mutant strain has now been spotted in 31 countries — and some doctors fear it is more transmissible than any existing versions.

But in a glimmer of hope, academics in New York say data suggests the variant is still susceptible to vaccines.

New York University Grossman School of Medicine researchers found antibodies triggered by MRNA jabs still neutralised the Lambda variant in laboratory studies.

It is not proof the jabs definitely work in thwarting the strain — but the scientists are confident.

Both Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines are based on mRNA technology, which had never been used to make jabs until the Covid pandemic.

The mutant strain caught the attention of World Health Organization bosses after it was spotted in the UK, US and Germany.

Thought to have originated in Peru last summer, it quickly spiralled and now makes up 80 per cent of the South American country's cases.

Doctors monitoring its growth fear it spreads easier than other strains, including the Indian version that has caused havoc across the world.

But coronavirus-tracking scientists are puzzled about the true transmissibility of the variant, given it was first spotted in Britain and February and has yet to take off.

They have yet to uncover any proof the variant is actually any more contagious than existing strains, including Delta or 'Delta Plus'. Experts told MailOnline the variant is no reason to cancel or delay Freedom Day in the UK on July 19.

Others also insist there is no evidence to suggest it is deadlier, despite some doctors linking its spread to Peru having the world's worst Covid mortality rate.

The new study, published in a preprint on BioRxiv, offers more hope the variant may not be any more dangerous than other strains already circulating.

Researchers tested samples of the Lambda variant against vaccine-elicited antibodies and ones triggered by powerful drugs — the experimental therapy given to President Donald Trump during his hospital stay with Covid last year.

It showed while the variant 'showed a partial resistance' to the antibodies created by the vaccines, the resistance 'is not likely to cause a significant loss of protection against infection'.

The New York University study authors wrote: 'The results suggest that the vaccines in current use will remain protective against the lambda variant and that monoclonal antibody therapy will remain effective.

'The findings highlight the importance of wide-spread adoption of vaccination which will protect individuals from disease, decrease virus spread and slow the emergence of novel variants.'

Australia became the latest country to detect Lambda, it was revealed today. But the case also dates back several months.

The variant was detected in a traveller stuck in hotel quarantine in New South Wales in April, according to the national genomics database AusTrakka.

There is no evidence to suggest the strain has already started to spread among the community in Australia, officials say.

The strain, also known to experts as C.37, is a 'variant of interest' because of its high transmissibility.

Professor Pablo Tsukayama, of Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, said the strain had 'exploded' in the country and was now responsible for 82 per cent of cases.

Professor David Livermore, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, said the New York University study indicates there is 'no good reason for special concern' around the variant.

He told MailOnline it is unlikely the variant is as transmissible as some have said, because it would have overtaken the Delta variant in the UK if that was the case.

Professor Livermore said: 'Clearly we need to keep an eye on new variants. But, so far, there is no evidence of major spread of Lambda outside Peru itself and Chile.

'Peru has the highest Covid death rate worldwide, however it now has a falling trend of cases and deaths and the Brazilian "Gamma" variant is more prevalent elsewhere in South America.

'So I’m underwhelmed by claims that it’s a "sudden new threat", or is "running riot" there.

'I have seen press assertions that Lambda "might" evade vaccines, but can find no evidence to support this claim in the scientific literature — rather [this study] indicates that it is neutralised by both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, with only a small reduction in binding.

'What’s more, if did escape vaccines and was highly transmissible, why has it failed to expand in the UK whereas the vaccine-covered "Delta" Indian variant has expanded so strongly in recent weeks?

'In short, it needs watching, but no good reason for special concern. It is very definitely not a reason to delay the UK’s Freedom Day.'

University of Queensland virologist Kirsty Short said more research was needed before classifying Lambda as more infectious than the Delta variant.

'It's very preliminary,' said Dr Short told the ABC. 'It's a good starting point, but I certainly wouldn't infer anything from that into the clinic.'

The mutant strain carries the mutation L452Q, which scientists say makes it more transmissible. It is similar to the L452R mutation in the Delta and Epsilon variants which researchers believe make it more infectious.

The strain only accounts for 0.3 per cent of infections in the US and less than 0.1 per cent in Britain.


More evidence COVID-19 vaccines work: Just 0.039% of 19.5 million fully immunized Californians later contracted the disease

A small number of Californians who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 later tested positive for the virus.

These so-called 'breakthrough' cases occur when people contract the disease 14 days or more after receiving their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson jab, and which officials say are not surprising.

Out of 19.5 million people in California who completed their vaccine series, just 7,553 have gotten sick with the virus - meaning a breakthrough case rate of 0.039 percent.

Among those 7,553 people, most had mild COVID-19 cases. Only 62 died from the virus.

While these numbers reinforce how well the vaccines work, limited reporting on breakthrough cases leaves scientists with questions such as which variants are more likely to cause those breakthroughs.

The Covid vaccines currently in use in the U.S. - Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson - are all extremely good at protecting people against the coronavirus.

These vaccines have lived up to their promise from clinical trials, allowing millions of Americans to go mask-free, travel, and otherwise return to normal life.

Still, in rare cases, people do get infected with the coronavirus after completing a vaccine regimen.

These rare cases are called breakthrough cases. Scientists track these breakthroughs as a way to continuously examine how well the vaccines work.

Recent data from California adds more evidence to that trend.

As of June 30, the state has reported 7,553 breakthrough cases out of 19.5 California residents who are fully vaccinated.

That amounts to one breakthrough case for every 2,583 vaccinated people, or a breakthrough case rate of 0.039 percent.

'The way we should think about these cases is that they're very rare,' Dr George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, told CalMatters.

Out of those 7,553 cases, 584 fully vaccinated Californians went to the hospital with a COVID-19 infection.

The California Department of Public Health notes, however, that many of those people could have been hospitalized for reasons unrelated to Covid but were tested for Covid upon admission.

Data on hospitalization are also missing for about half of California's breakthrough cases.

Only 62 of those Californians with breakthrough cases died with Covid. But again, some of those deaths may have been from other primary causes.

Nationwide, fewer than 5,000 people have been hospitalized with or died from Covid after being fully vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report 4,427 breakthrough hospitalizations and 879 deaths, as of June 28.

Between January 1 and April 30, the CDC reported 10,262 breakthrough cases - at a time when over 100 million Americans had been fully vaccinated.

Starting in May, however, the agency has only investigated and reported those breakthrough cases that lead to hospitalization and death.

The CDC made this decision in order to focus on investigating more severe breakthrough cases, as opposed to those that result in mild symptoms or no symptoms.

But some experts have said it is still important to track mild breakthrough cases, in order to look for trends - and determine whether any new variants are causing the breakthroughs.

Most state public health agencies have followed the CDC's lead and are not tracking breakthrough cases, according to a recent analysis by the Rockefeller Foundation.

California's public health agency is tracking breakthroughs in its state by matching positive test records with vaccination records.

The state has not released sequencing information on its cases, however. It's unknown how many of those 7,553 people may have been infected with the Indian 'Delta' variant.

Studies thus far have shown that the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all work well against the Delta variant.

But without more information on the variants behind breakthrough cases - and with the Delta variant spreading rapidly across the U.S. - it is difficult for scientists to closely monitor the situation.