Biden administration to invest $1.7bn to fight COVID-19 variants

Money will go to genomic sequencing, research centres for genomic epidemiology and a national bioinformatics network.

A researcher screens positive samples of the coronavirus for the UK virus variant 'cluster B.1.1.7' [File: Henning Bagger via Reuters]

The United States will invest $1.7bn to help states and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fight COVID-19 variants that are spreading rapidly across the US.

The investment is part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” and will improve detection, monitoring and mitigation of these variants by scaling up genomic sequencing efforts, the White House said on Friday.

“The original strain of COVID-19 comprises only about half of all cases in America today. New and potentially dangerous strains of the virus make up the other half,” the White House said in a statement.

In early February, US laboratories were sequencing about 8,000 COVID-19 strains per week. Since then the administration has invested nearly $200m to increase genomic sequencing to 29,000 samples per week – an effort that will get a boost with the new funding.

The investment will be broken down into three areas: $1bn to expand genomic sequencing, $400m to help build six research centres for genomic epidemiology and $300m to build a national bioinformatics infrastructure – which will help build a repository of data.

The first portion of the funding will be distributed in early May and the next round will be invested over the next several years, the White House said.

The White House provided a state-by-state breakdown of the funds with California receiving $17m, Texas $15m and Florida $12m.

A White House official said on Thursday the US is preparing for the possibility that a booster shot will be needed between nine to 12 months after people are initially vaccinated against COVID-19.

Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Albert Bourla has said people will “likely” need a third booster dose of COVID-19 vaccines within 12 months and could need annual shots.

The United States had administered 198,317,040 doses of COVID-19 vaccines nationwide as of Thursday morning and distributed 255,400,665 doses, according to the CDC.

Source: Reuters