The three variants of SARS-CoV-2 identified by researchers could lead to the renewed spread of COVID-19 and/or make currently available vaccines and therapeutics less effective, a report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security warns.
The report, Staying Ahead of the Variants: Policy Recommendations to Identify and Manage Current and Future Variants of Concern (20 pages, PDF), discusses variants first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil and found at still-low levels in the United States; the current status of SARS-CoV-2 surveillance, sequencing, and variant characterization; and the need for additional investment to ensure the nation has the public health capacity to detect and respond to the new variants.
Recommended actions for mitigating the impact of the variants include maintaining policies designed to slow transmission of the virus, including mask mandates, social distancing requirements, and limits on gatherings; updating protocols in preparation for a possible resurgence of the virus; expanding diagnostic and screening testing; and accelerating vaccination efforts. Policy recommendations for increasing U.S. capacity to respond to future variants include developing a national genomic surveillance strategy that informs the public health response; prioritizing contact tracing and case investigation on new variants; increasing government funding for bioinformatics training and viral characterization; and improving coordination around genomic surveillance and characterization capability.
"Although viral mutation is inevitable, it is possible to anticipate, manage, and mitigate the threat to our collective public health," the report's authors write. "The key to staying ahead of a rapidly evolving virus is to maintain a continuous, systematic genomic surveillance and functional characterization capability that is able to rapidly detect and evaluate new variants of concern."
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