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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Lambda variant in Canada: where is it and will it become a variant of concern?

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TORONTO — The Lambda variant detected in many South American countries has made its way into a handful of Canadian provinces. But experts say there’s no sign it causes more severe outcomes compared with other variants, and that our high vaccination rate should help prevent a rapid spread in this country.

Currently British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec have reported cases of the Lambda variant, also known as the C.37 lineage that is believed to have been first identified in Peru.

As a part of their variant surveillance program, Quebec screened and reported 27 cases of the Lambda variant between March 11 and May 5 of this year, the Quebec National Institute of Public Health told CTVNews.ca in a statement. Currently no additional updated information on Lambda variant cases in the province is available.

Last week, Alberta reported two cases of the Lambda variant, Ontario reported six, and British Columbia reported one, according to statements and epidemiological summaries that the provinces’ health departments provided to CTVNews.ca.

In other provinces and territories, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Yukon have not identified any cases of the Lambda variant to date.

Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador do not have data available on the Lambda variant, and Nunavut and the Northwest Territories currently do not have any active COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, CTV News’ infectious disease specialist, said that although cases of the Lambda variant are emerging in Canada, there currently isn’t any evidence that it is more transmissible or will cause more severe illness. 

“In order to be a variant of concern, you’ve got to show that there’s some evidence of an increased likelihood of spreading more easily or causing a disease that’s more severe, and we haven’t seen any of that,” Sharkawy said Monday on CTV’s Your Morning.

“It hasn’t really taken off anywhere, even in under-resourced parts of the world,” he said, noting that although there’s a higher presence of the Lambda variant in countries like Peru and Argentina, it is mostly overrepresented in those who are not vaccinated. 

The Lambda variant accounts for 80 per cent of new COVID-19 infections in Peru. Although it’s not identified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO), the organization designated it as a variant of interest (VOI) on June 14. 

While scientists continue to study the Lambda variant, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist based at the Toronto General Hospital, pointed out that vaccines being used in Canada so far have been effective against any COVID-19 variants that have emerged.

“I think it’s also fair to say that we have some very good vaccines that we’re using in Canada and it’s also fair to say that there’s not yet a variant that has emerged where our vaccines have not proven to be effective,” Bogoch said on CTV’s Your Morning. “…We’ve got to watch this closely, but I think we’ll be OK.”

Bogoch also said that many cases and illnesses in highly vaccinated countries are predominantly in those who have not been vaccinated, so having a greater proportion of people vaccinated can keep case numbers low. 

Kerry Bowman, bioethics and global health professor at the University of Toronto, added that while it’s still early to fully understand the severity of the Lambda variant, the more people that are fully vaccinated, the more prepared we’ll be to face any new variants.

“A lot of the variants – Delta, Lambda – they’re going to target in on unvaccinated people, so it doesn’t change the public health message that we need as many people fully vaccinated as possible, as quickly as possible,” Bowman told CTVNews.ca. “If there’s very few cases around because we’ve had such high vaccinations, we’re in a way better position to deal with these variants that may start emerging and coming at us.”

But, in order to minimize the spread and emergence of these new variants, Bowman said that we have to start looking at vaccination efforts beyond Canada. 

“When we look at the big picture of this pandemic, as our vaccinations rise in this country we really, really have to start thinking about the rest of the world from a virus and epidemiological point of view and from an ethical point of view,” said Bowman. “Many places in this world [have] very low vaccination rates…these variants are going to keep coming at us. I would argue that we have an obligation to help other people in this pandemic.” 

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