Now: The Race to Sequence Variants

Despite being a “sequencing superpower,” the US is struggling to ramp up sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 variants—leaving it blind to rapidly emerging threats, Science reports.
 
The US ranks 36th worldwide for sequencing SARS-CoV-2, sequencing the genomes of just 0.36% of confirmed cases. Denmark, for context, is sequencing more than 50% of its positive cases.

Problem: The effort is hampered by a disconnect between US labs and public health systems. Labs set up to sequence samples are “idling in neutral” as the Biden administration works out plans for a national surveillance system for the new variants. 
 
Challenge: It’s a mammoth coordinating effort to get samples to sequencers and then quickly getting data back to those who can act on it.
 
Big Issue: There is no straightforward way to link political will with the lab capacity lying in wait. It will also be crucial to expand engagement with diagnostics giants like Quest and LabCorp to secure avoid “genomic deserts.”
 
Findings So Far: The B.1.1.7 variant was found to be doubling in relative frequency in the US every 10 days. The variant, which was first documented in the UK, is up to 46% more transmissible than its predecessor.
 
Variant Intel: Global findings about the variants present the possibility that vaccines will need to be updated somewhat regularly and that the virus won’t disappear. Instead, it will become something to manage—but may be a lesser threat, The Washington Post reports.

For its part, The New York Times is watching variants on its own tracker.

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