In order to get ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to understand where it’s going. And key to this is genomic surveillance, or the systematic collection and interpretation of viral genetic sequences to identify new variants and detect transmission patterns. Genomic surveillance is one of the most powerful tools officials can wield in crafting public health interventions, on everything from lockdowns to travel bans to vaccine policy.
Unfortunately, the United States is not doing enough of it. Of the more than 30 million COVID-19 cases we've counted this past year, only 0.6% have been sequenced — placing us 33rd in a global ranking. Like most other elements of our pandemic response, genomic surveillance in the United States has been halting, uncoordinated, and underfunded.
The Rockefeller Foundation (TRF) wants to change that. Three weeks ago, TRF released a blueprint — distilled from conversations with dozens of scientists, public health officials, and industry stakeholders — for building a national genomic surveillance system. And it’s committing $1 billion to the cause. Here to talk to us about why this is important, and what the building blocks of a national genomic surveillance system should look like, is Dr. Jonathan (“Jono”) Quick, the author of The End of Pandemics and TRF’s Managing Director of Pandemic Response, Preparedness, and Prevention.
I hope you enjoy the conversation.
For more information, check out:
- “Accelerating National Genomic Surveillance,” the TRF’s action plan for creating a national genomic surveillance system in the United States.
- “Implementation Framework: Toward a National Genomic Surveillance Network,” its companion document that identifies key barriers to realizing a robust national genomic surveillance system and outlines practical opportunities to reduce these barriers.
- this piece in The Atlantic about the rapid rise of genomic surveillance, which has revolutionized pandemic response