The EU recently added clauses to COVID-19 vaccine contracts to prioritize vaccines that are effective against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Meanwhile, a U.S. House bill that would provide $1.75 billion for genomic sequencing of coronavirus samples is scheduled for floor debate and the Senate is considering similar legislation.
The UK variant (B.1.1.7) that is spreading across Europe and the U.S. is more infectious and possibly more dangerous than earlier strains and could become dominant in the U.S. by March, according to CDC projections. Even more potentially threatening are the South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1) variants, which are also spreading in both regions.
The U.K. helped the world understand the threat of B.1.1.7 with its sizable genomic sequencing apparatus. The country has sequenced roughly 10% of coronavirus samples it has collected. As of January, the U.S. had sequenced approximately 0.32% of total cases, according to The Washington Post. Other estimates put the total closer to 0.5% of SARS-CoV-2 samples.
The House bill also would enable the development of a national network to track the genetic mutations of SARS-CoV-2. The Senate known a the Tracking COVID-19 Variants Act would provide $2 billion for genome sequencing. Introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), that bill also would require the U.S. to sequence at least 15% of positive SARS-CoV-2 samples.
“Variants represent a growing threat to the health and security of our nation, and right now the U.S. is lagging behind other countries in tracking new and emerging variants of this deadly virus,” Sen. Baldwin said in a press release. The U.S. should aim to be a global leader in genomic testing of SARS-CoV-2 samples, she stressed. “I’m glad to see this legislation move forward today so we can better identify, survey and understand these variants, and better protect all Americans from this public health crisis,” Baldwin concluded.