The country’s first recorded Lambda coronavirus variant, a 35-year-old woman, is a local case, and not a returning overseas Filipino, the Department of Health (DOH) said Monday.
“The patient is a local case. She is not a returning overseas Filipino,” said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a radio interview.
Vergeire also stressed that all the vaccines in use are effective, after some lab experiments found that the Lambda variant’s mutations help it resist neutralization by vaccine-induced antibodies.
“It is not more transmissible compared to the Delta variant… There is no evidence of its supposed resistance against the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said.
In a separate briefing, Vergeire said the patient is from Region 6 (Western Visayas). Her vaccination status is still being determined.
Vergeire said that the patient tested positive for COVID-19 on July 22.
Vergeire also said the patient is pregnant and was expected to give birth in July, but the DOH has yet to confirm the current status of her pregnancy.
Vergeire said the patient would not transmit COVID-19 to her baby since the virus does not cross the placental border.
The DOH earlier said the patient was asymptomatic and tagged as recovered after completing the 10-day isolation period.
The Lambda variant is currently classified as a variant of interest by the World Health Organization.
However, Dr. Rontgene Solante, an infectious disease expert, said it has the potential to become a variant of concern like the Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma variants.
In an interview on radio dzBB, Solante said the Lambda variant’s mutations are similar to the Delta variant first detected in India.
The Lambda variant, first found in Peru, was classified as a variant of interest by the World Health Organization on June 14.
The WHO said a coronavirus variant as a “variant of interest” (VOI) if, among other criteria, it “has been identified to cause community transmission...or has been detected in multiple countries.”
A variant of interest becomes a “variant of concern” (VOC) when it is associated with an “increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; [an] increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or [a] decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, [and] therapeutics.”
Solante said the Lambda variant could be more transmissible and become resistant to vaccines.
“We don’t have a lot of data yet on the Lambda variant because the countries that have experienced it are South American countries—Peru, Argentina—and it is one of the variants that is being monitored as it may become a variant of concern,” he said.
Solante urged the public to get vaccinated and strictly follow health protocols.
He said the approach to the Lambda variant was the same used for other variants.
“The approach is the same. We must protect ourselves. We have to be careful,” Solante
A former adviser to the government on COVID-19, meanwhile, said the presence of the Lambda variant was a cause for concern.
The Delta variant is highly transmissible while the Lambda variant is reportedly more infectious, said Dr. Tony Leachon, a former adviser to the government’s coronavirus task force.
“If there will be a surge, we can’t tell if it’s due to Delta or Lambda variants because both are already present,” he said in Filipino.
The WHO is still gathering data on whether the Lambda variant is more transmissible or resistant to vaccines, a DOH official said on Monday.
Dr. Alethea de Guzman, head of the DOH’s Epidemiology Bureau, said that a study in Peru--where 70 to 80 percent of the cases are of the Lambda variant, showed the vaccines are effective against it, but only if the patient gets two full doses of the COVID-19 jab.
“It’s a peer reviewed study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and it is conducted in Peru and the reason why it’s that very important is that this is where the Lambda was first detected and that’s where the majority of the variants are actually positive for Lambda,” said De Guzman.
De Guzman said there are three major mutations in the Lambda variant that show resistance to vaccines in laboratories.
But the way to prove they are resistant to vaccines is looking at real world data, she said.
“The fact that it is still a variant of interest means that the World Health Organization is still gathering enough evidence to prove that it is indeed more transmissible, or it indeed is affecting the vaccine efficacies of what we already are using now as our vaccines,” De Guzman said.
De Guzman said the Philippines needs to vaccinate more people faster to boost the country’s fight against the Lambda variant.
She also said that minimum public health standards must be followed consistently to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.