The Rockefeller Foundation has released an action plan designed to boost the nation's ability to detect new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus before they spread by creating a genomic surveillance system.
According to the foundation, most localities in the United States are conducting genomic sequencing of less than 1 percent of cumulative COVID-19 cases, and the genomic data collected are not being analyzed or shared quickly enough to help public health authorities and scientists make informed decisions about whether to relax precautions or adapt vaccines and treatments. Based on a convening in February of scientists, lab administrators, public health officials, private-sector representatives, and entrepreneurs, the report, Accelerating National Genomic Surveillance (14 pages, PDF), outlines a six-part plan for significantly expanding genomic surveillance and helping to prevent new variant-driven surges: build a viral defense system with basic protocols for specimen and data collection, sequencing, and analysis to detect a new virus or variant as soon as it appears; analyze diverse samples to track COVID-19's disproportionate impact on specific groups; connect datasets across national health systems by creating standards for the collection, aggregation, and sharing of risk-related medical information that safeguards privacy; secure additional resources to fund staff, sequencing equipment, computers, reagents, sample storage, and other supplies; develop genomic analysis software and data visualization tools; and rapidly assess whether new virus variants are more transmissible or virulent or make vaccines and therapeutics less effective.
A companion report, Implementation Framework: Toward a National Genomic Surveillance Network (14 pages, PDF), identifies key barriers to realizing a robust national genomic surveillance system and outlines practical opportunities to reduce those barriers.
The foundation also announced that once the technology and analytic capabilities have been widely established, the data can be fed into a pandemic prevention institute that it is developing as part of its $1 billion commitment announced last October in support of an equitable global recovery. When the data received are analyzed, the information will be shared broadly to inform actions needed to stay ahead of and eventually end the pandemic and to prevent future outbreaks from becoming global pandemics.
"This blueprint for dramatically expanding genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 and other pathogens in the United States comes at a critical time in our country's battle against this pandemic and lays the groundwork for a system to help identify, track, and prevent the next outbreak from such widespread devastation," said Rockefeller Foundation president Rajiv J. Shah. "By amplifying warning signals and sharing information and best practices, the system presented could save countless lives and billions of dollars by helping to forestall new variant-driven surges."
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