US plans to spend $2.3 billion to fight Covid-19 variants

Vaccine makers are currently testing boosters tailored to variants. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The administration of President Joe Biden on Friday (April 16) announced it would spend US$1.7 billion (S$2.3 billion) to improve its ability to sequence the coronavirus for genetic changes, as new and potentially dangerous variants are poised to dominate the pandemic.

The funding comes from a US$1.9 trillion Covid relief package passed last month and will help the United States come up to speed on genomic surveillance, an area in which it has lagged behind badly relative to other advanced countries.

"In early February, US laboratories were only sequencing about 8,000 Covid-19 strains per week," a White House statement said, adding that thanks to an initial US$200 million investment, the rate was now 29,000 samples a week.

The new funding includes US$1 billion to expand federal and state capacity to expand genomic surveillance; US$400 million to set up six cutting-edge research centres; and US$300 million to build a national IT system for sharing and analysing data.

An analysis by the Washington Post in December found the United States was 43rd in the world in its ability to sequence coronavirus cases.

This month, the variant first detected in the United Kingdom became the most dominant version of the coronavirus.

There are also fears about the rise of other variants, such as those first found in South Africa and in Brazil, which are better able to evade antibodies made in response to the original strain.

Vaccine makers are currently testing boosters tailored to variants and they could be made available towards the end of the year.

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