Genomic surveillance has been an important tool in tracking the spread of SARS-COV2 variants in the past several weeks and has been used previously in the 2014 Ebola outbreak to monitor viral mutations. Being able to detect changes in a pathogen is essential in assessing its risk to public health and adapting existing treatments (i.e. changing the sequence of an RNA vaccine to reflect changes in a virus antigen).
However, very few countries have taken advantage of genomic surveillance, with Britain being one of the few countries to do it on a regular basis. For example, France has analysed the genome of SARS-COV2 less times in the course of the pandemic than Wales does in a week (https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/01/02/what-the-new-variants-of-covid-19-mean-for-human-health).
For genomic surveillance to be an effective tool in controlling pandemics, it needs to be done by lots of countries and on a frequent basis. Furthermore, new information on pathogen variants needs to be shared as quickly as possible with other countries. The response of European countries to the recent variants has shown that there is a lack of proper infrastructure for this, and something needs to be done to rectify it.
Science is one of Britain‚’s strongest sectors and in life after Brexit, is one of the areas we should be capitalising on to have an impact on the global stage. Given that we already lead the way in this area of research, we should be using our diplomatic muscle to get other countries around the world to implement genomic surveillance as an essential line of defence in future pandemics.
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