Two major obstacles to ending the pandemic are rich countries hoarding vaccines and pharmaceutical companies refusing to share the know-how to increase global vaccine production. But another often-neglected aspect of the pandemic response is genomic sequencing—which AHF is addressing head-on to help identify and track the spread of emerging, potentially vaccine-resistant variants of the novel coronavirus.
AHF awarded grants to 15 organizations in 14 countries in 2021, with most continuing into this year. Each of the supported project sites, which are institutions or universities with the necessary expertise in genomic sequencing, are required to upload their findings to GISAID – the largest international independent mechanism for the collection and global sharing of new COVID-19 variants to increase epidemiological transparency.
“Genomic sequencing is vital for knowing details on ever-evolving variants of SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19], as we’ve seen many adaptations in its replication across various regions,” said Dr. Jorge Saavedra, Executive Director of the AHF Global Public Health Institute at the University of Miami. “By example, without sequencing and the global sharing of data, we wouldn’t have known that Omicron had spread worldwide from Southern Africa in just one month.”
“The sequencing grants have also allowed sites – like an institute in Santa Fe, Argentina – to cut the time it takes to report a new variant from one month, down to seven days,” added Saavedra. “We’ve clearly shown that efforts to expedite tracking of the virus are imperative to fighting COVID-19 – we just need much more of it globally.”
New variants of concern will likely emerge from regions with little-to-no access to vaccines, as was the case of a new variant from Cameroon, which was discovered in France. This drives home the point that without ensuring low- and middle-income countries have sufficient access to the lifesaving doses, the world stands little chance of ending the pandemic.