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Bullet policy, statements · Feb 11, 2021

Science Groups Endorse Legislation to Track COVID-19 Variants

The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) joined 45 scientific, academic, and medical stakeholder groups in expressing support for legislation aimed at scaling up efforts to track and respond to coronavirus variants in the United States.

The Tracking COVID-19 Variants Act (S. 236), introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) on February 4, 2021, would boost support for advanced molecular detection technologies at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to enable genetic surveillance and sequencing for SARS-CoV-2 variants. A companion measure (H.R. 791) has been introduced in the House by Representatives Ami Bera (D-CA) and Scott Peters (D-CA).

“It is unacceptable that the United States lags far behind other countries in our use of genome sequencing – our best tool to detect and respond to the next COVID-19 variant that is bound to pop up as the virus adapts to more Americans getting vaccinated,” said Representative Bera. “The U.S. should be a world leader in this effort, and that means we must invest more funding and resources to allow the CDC to ramp up national sequence-based surveillance and support our public health infrastructure so we can better identify, survey and understand these variants, and better protect all Americans from this public health crisis.”

The measure would allocate $2 billion in emergency supplemental funding for the CDC to support its Advanced Molecular Detection (AMD) Initiative in an effort to integrate genomics and genomic epidemiology; to immediately issue national guidance on scientific collaboration around viral sequencing; and to provide technical assistance and guidance to state, local, tribal, or territorial public health departments to increase their capacity to sequence the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The legislation would also expand the existing data linkage program at the National Center for Health Statistics to allow for the temporary linkage of data from multiple sources, including genomic data, clinical data, and epidemiological data.

“Currently, the U.S. lags far behind other countries in its ability to sequence viral samples,” wrote the stakeholder groups. “This funding will bring our nation up from a sequencing level of 0.3 percent (43rd in the world) to a level that allows for sequencing an adequate sample to estimate variant circulation nationally. With much-needed supplemental funding through CDC’s AMD program into the combined resources of public health, academic, and clinical laboratories, as well as research institutions and private sector entities, the U.S. will rapidly expand sequencing to provide a complete picture of the circulating virus, its patterns of transmission, and how it is evolving as we begin immunizing the population.”

The bill’s provisions with a funding level of $1.75 billion have been included in the latest COVID-19 relief package being considered by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Read the letters to Senator Baldwin and Representatives Bera and Peters.