US announces $ 1.7 billion plan to fight COVID-19 strains

The United States will install a national network to identify and track variants of the coronavirus, at a cost of $ 1.7 billion, the spread of which could unleash another wave of infections, the government announced on Friday.

White House officials unveiled a strategy that has three components: a significant increase in funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments to accelerate the genetic mapping of virus samples; the creation of six partnerships with universities to conduct studies and develop technologies for gene-based pathogen monitoring, and the creation of a data system to better analyze and share information on emerging disease threats, thereby converting knowledge in action.

The new effort, which relies on funds approved by Congress as part of President Joe Biden’s financial aid package for the pandemic, seeks to break what experts say is a cycle of extreme ups and downs in the country’s preparedness stage for biological threats. , of which the coronavirus is just one example.

Others have been Ebola and Zika, and respiratory diseases like SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012, which were not big problems in the United States. Generally, the government is quick to combat a potential threat, but funds fade when the threat ends. The new genome surveillance initiative seeks to create a permanent infrastructure.

“It’s a transformative sum of money,” Mary Lee Watts, director of federal affairs for the American Society for Microbiology, said in a recent interview. “It has the potential to not only anticipate the current crisis, but it will help us plan for the future. It is a program that has been underfunded for years ”.

A variant known as B117, initially detected in Britain, has become predominant in the United States.

In Michigan, a state ravaged by the virus, that more contagious variant accounts for more than half of cases, according to CDC data. Current vaccines are effective against the so-called British variant, but other mutations detected around the world have shown resistance to these vaccines.