Global epidemiological surveillance is vital for understanding the evolution of viral pathogens and monitoring for changes in transmissibility, virulence, disease pathology, and impact on the efficacy of diagnostic tests, therapeutics, and vaccines. As such, global surveillance plays a central role in proactively managing pathogens such as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Robust data about which strains are common, where they are spreading, how their symptoms differ, when new variants are emerging, and more can enable states and countries to prepare for their arrival and vaccine and test manufacturers to start their work weeks or even months earlier than they otherwise could. Epidemiological surveillance already exists on a large scale to enable scientists to determine which influenza strains are appropriate targets for each year’s flu vaccines, and a similar effort will be needed to make sense of SARS-CoV-2 and its evolving strains.
But where the effort to inform the next round of flu shots is extensive and ongoing, surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 strains as yet leaves much to be desired in most countries. For example, although healthcare providers in the United States perform millions of COVID19 tests weekly, only a few thousand samples receive genomic sequencing suitable for informing researchers about the movement and appearance of virus strains. Some US states have sent zero sequences to international databases. This is a stark contrast to the surveillance effort in the United Kingdom, where up to 10% of all positive test samples also get sequenced, resulting in robust data about the genetic composition of the viral population. It is not a coincidence that B.1.1.7, the highly contagious variant strain now sweeping through the developed world, was identified and isolated in the UK. To date, there are only these local surveillance efforts in play with limited global coordination of effort to monitor emerging variants. Without a robust, coordinated global effort to identify and characterize emerging variants, societies run the risk of suffering significant healthcare and economic setbacks. Healthcare providers, public health officials and others charged with making decisions about SARS-CoV-2 containment efforts cannot act on information they do not have and cannot easily learn if they do not have data to study or the infrastructure needed, creating major gaps in the United States’s and the world’s ability to get ahead of SARS-CoV-2. It is necessary to enhance global viral surveillance efforts to replace surprises with opportunities and prevent future tragedies from unfolding. To this point, US President-elect Biden’s recently proposed American Rescue Plan highlights the need to identify and address emerging strains of COVID-19 by increasing the country’s sequencing, surveillance and outbreak analytics capacity at the levels demanded by the crisis.
Thermo Fisher Scientific is committed to fighting the global pandemic in every way available to it. We are collaborating with surveillance laboratories, policymakers, governments, and more to make sure our tools are state-of-the-art, available, and up to the challenges ahead. With our extensive portfolio of products for detection, confirmation and genome-wide surveillance of SARS-CoV-2, including test kits, sequencing devices, primers, and more, we are uniquely positioned as a single-source supplier able to fill all of these roles and are committed to helping the world’s healthcare providers and researchers get ahead of COVID-19.