Researchers from the University of Washington and clinics in Switzerland tested the variant in blood samples from vaccinated people, as well as those who were previously infected with COVID-19. They found that the neutralizing power was reduced about 2- to 3.5-fold.
The research team also visualized the variant and found that three mutations on epsilon’s spike protein allow the virus to escape certain antibodies and lower the efficacy of vaccines.
Epsilon “relies on an indirect and unusual neutralization-escape strategy,” they wrote, adding that understanding these escape routes could help scientists to track new variants, counteract the ongoing pandemic and create booster shots.
In Australia, for instance, public health officials have detected the lambda variant, which could be more infectious than the delta variant and resistant to vaccines, according to Sky News.
A hotel quarantine program in New South Wales identified the variant in someone who had returned from travel, the news outlet reported. Also known as C.37, lambda was named a “variant of interest” by WHO last month.
Lambda was first identified in Peru in December and now accounts for more than 80% of the country’s cases, according to the Financial Times . It has been detected in 27 countries, including the U.S., U.K. and Germany.
The variant has seven mutations on the spike protein that allow the virus to infect human cells, the news outlet reported. One mutation is similar to another mutation on the delta variant, which could make it more contagious.
In a preprint study published last week, researchers at the University of Chile at Santiago found that lambda is better able to escape antibodies created by the CoronaVac vaccine made by Sinovac in China. In the paper, which hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, researchers tested blood samples from local health care workers in Santiago who had received two doses of the vaccine.
“Our data revealed that the spike protein…carries mutations conferring increased infectivity and the ability to escape from neutralizing antibodies,” they wrote.
The research team urged countries to continue testing for contagious variants, even in areas with high vaccination rates, so scientists can identify mutations quickly and analyze whether new variants can escape vaccines.
“The world has to get its act together,” Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, told NPR.
“Otherwise yet another, potentially more dangerous, variant could emerge,” he said.