Q&A: How the US can respond to coronavirus variants – STAT

Coronavirus variants are right here. Now what?

A new report from infectious illness consultants supplies coverage suggestions for the way the USA can blunt the affect of the variants that have already emerged, in addition to construct a genomic surveillance system so the nation can higher establish, monitor, and assess different variants which may emerge because the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus continues to evolve.

The options embody sustaining the insurance policies which have been proven to drive down viral transmission, prioritizing contact tracing and case investigation of infections discovered to be brought on by one of many variants of concern, and constructing a scaled-up and extra coordinated nationwide genomic sequencing technique. The Covid-19 bundle that Congress is assembling now will possible embody an inflow of funding for genomic surveillance, so the researchers try to check what such a nationwide system ought to appear like. 


Already, three variants have emerged that, in several methods, current challenges for the U.S. The B.1.1.7 variant, which was first seen in the UK, is extra transmissible than earlier types of the virus, and, analysis more and more signifies, extra deadly. Then there are P.1 and B.1.351, which have been first seen in Brazil and South Africa, respectively. They seem like higher at reinfecting individuals who’ve recovered from an preliminary bout of Covid-19. Some vaccines have additionally been found to be less effective in opposition to B.1.351, and on condition that it shares a few of its mutations with P.1., consultants worry the identical may very well be true with the latter.

STAT spoke with Caitlin Rivers, an infectious illness epidemiologist on the Johns Hopkins Middle for Well being Safety and a co-author of the report, about its suggestions. Excerpts from the dialog are beneath, calmly edited for readability. 


Your first advice to take care of the present variants is to keep up insurance policies that sluggish transmission. However governors or mayors are the pretty steep decline in circumstances proper now and being like, nice, we will ease some stuff. Some have ended masks mandates, and a few are permitting extra actions like indoor eating, or easing capability limits at companies. Why is that this not the time for that in your eyes?

Two causes. One, though we’ve come down quite a bit from the height of the surge in early January, we’re nonetheless nicely forward of the 2 earlier surges. So issues are higher, however they’re not good. So for that cause alone, I’d suggest persevering with to maintain restrictions in place till we get case counts down till a way more cheap degree.

And the second cause is the variants. Proper now they’re circulating at a reasonably low degree in the USA — it varies from place to put — however low on common. However we’ve seen in locations the place the B.1.1.7 variants will get a toehold, it causes resurgences. And the decrease we will be at the place to begin if B.1.1.7 does begin to change into established, the higher place we’ll be in in the long run. We’re setting ourselves up now to have a greater future. 

What are a few of the limits of the U.S. genomic surveillance system? The place are the bottlenecks?

We have now nice capability on this nation to do that work. We have now a number of sequencing capability, we’ve a number of science capability for the characterization. What we’re actually lacking is the coordination — the right way to carry all of it collectively and be sure that all of this effort and data is coming collectively right into a system that helps to help our response. 

Scale can be a bottleneck. There are a number of the constructing blocks that we’d like for a profitable genomic surveillance system. CDC is doing this work, personal sequencing firms are doing this work, educational labs are concerned in characterization, but it surely hasn’t been on the scale that’s required to help the magnitude of the response that we’d like. And it’s not coordinated sufficient to take advantage of out of these current components.

How shortly can the genomic surveillance system within the nation be strengthened? Is it one thing that will take a very long time or may some issues be executed extra shortly?

We may very well be doing much more with what we’ve, as a result of there’s a number of sequencing capability in the USA. There’s a lot left on the desk that we may very well be making higher use of.

The opposite motivation is that there are substantial funds for this within the American rescue bundle, and so it’s looking forward to see how may we use these funds and the way may they go to constructing a practical system.

Primarily based on the accessible information, that are restricted, how do you view what’s occurring with the variants within the U.S. proper now?

The B.1.1.7 variant is unquestionably at greater prevalence than the opposite two. We have now seen that within the U.Okay., it precipitated a extreme resurgence that prompted a lockdown. That’s the concern right here — that it might change into established and would reverse a few of the progress we’re seeing. 

The opposite two are circulating, so far as we will inform, at a lot decrease ranges, though we’re not wanting all that onerous. The larger concern with these is immune escape [when the virus mutates in such a way that immune protection from an earlier infection or a vaccine isn’t as robust]. So significantly, as we glance ahead, having system in place that is ready to be careful for these and different variants and adapt our countermeasures accordingly goes to be actually necessary.

One other level: There’s a number of speak proper now about genomic surveillance, however what I don’t hear as a lot dialog about is characterization. Simply since you’ve recognized a brand new variant doesn’t imply you recognize what to make of it. Envisioning the way you flip these sequencing outcomes into one thing significant for public well being is de facto necessary.

So that you’re saying should you establish a brand new variant that you just assume has some type of affect on transmission or immunity, for instance, how do you go from figuring out you could have a brand new variant to determining what, if something, it means? Is that what characterization means?

Sure, that’s precisely it. 

Are you able to clarify what you’re envisioning what the following few months would possibly appear like with the variants and circumstances? 

The variants are a little bit of a curveball. I may see a state of affairs the place B.1.1.7 may decelerate our progress and possibly precipitate resurgences in some communities — possibly not nationwide, as a result of some communities have pretty substantial ranges of inhabitants immunity, however some locations may return up once more. However as we go by the summer season and into subsequent winter, that is the place we would like this surveillance system to return into place. If there are variants which might be exhibiting immune escape, what we don’t need is to change into unprepared and undergo one other wave as a result of this hypothetical variant is now not match for the vaccines.

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