Delta variant 'highly worrisome' as spread grows across Americas: PAHO

The Delta variant of the coronavirus is "highly worrisome" as the mutation has spread to nearly two dozen countries across the Americas, officials with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) told reporters on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, health officials are keeping close tabs on another variant know as Lambda, but note uneven detection across the region has yet to cause a major impact.

Delta's growing spread in the United States, as well as most of Latin America and the Caribbean, should cause governments to prioritize prevention efforts like masking and especially a faster pace of vaccinations, according to PAHO Director Carissa Etienne.

"This is disturbing because cases seem to spread more easily with the Delta variant and we can't afford to let our guard down," she said.

PAHO is the Americas office for the UN-affiliated World Health Organization.

Etienne added that to date barely 18% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated.

She also pointed to faster spread of COVID-19 cases in North America, especially in southern and eastern parts of the United States, as well as in parts of central Mexico.

The PAHO chief also highlighted growth in new infections in Guatemala, Brazil and Cuba.

Even as other variants like Alpha and Gamma are still more common across the Americas, the Lambda variant has recently been detected in hard-hit South American countries, including Argentina and Peru, as well as Chile and Ecuador, according to PAHO COVID-19 Incident Manager Sylvain Aldighieri.

"Lambda is a variant we're interested in and Delta is a variant that is highly worrisome," he said.

"Right now, we don't have evidence that allows us to infer more aggressive or severe behavior from the Lambda variant, although it's possible it has a higher transmission capacity," he added.