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Lawmakers Introduce AAMC-Supported Tracking COVID-19 Variants Act

February 12, 2021

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CONTACTS
Christa Wagner, Senior Legislative Analyst
Tannaz Rasouli, Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach

Legislation authorizing $2 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to increase genomic sequencing capabilities and more quickly identify novel SARS-CoV-2 variants was introduced in the House and Senate on Feb. 4.

The AAMC-supported bill, the Tracking COVID-19 Variants Act (S. 236, H.R. 791), was introduced in the House and Senate by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.).

The legislation would provide additional funds to increase national genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 with the goal of more quickly and effectively responding to mitigate the impacts of new strains. To increase the national sequencing effort, funding would be provided through the CDC’s existing Advanced Molecular Detection Initiative — which includes the SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing for Public Health Emergency Response, Epidemiology, and Surveillance (SPHERES) public-private partnership — and would also allow for new grants and contracts, including to academic research institutions.

The legislation would also require the CDC to issue national guidance regarding collaborations and data-sharing for SARS-CoV-2 sequencing and would enact a pilot program to enhance public health research capabilities by expanding existing data linkages at the National Center for Health Statistics.

AAMC President and CEO David J. Skorton, MD, shared the AAMC’s support for the legislation in a Feb. 11 letter to the bill’s sponsors , noting that many medical schools and teaching hospitals are already utilizing their sequencing technology and analytical expertise to identify new variants, including through the SPHERES program and other efforts.

“This important investment would go a long way in enhancing CDC’s efforts and allow the agency to extend support to additional institutions with existing assets and expertise that are well structured to sequence and analyze data rapidly and efficiently,” said Skorton of the legislation. “With a broad-based approach, we will be better positioned to successfully scale and maintain a national campaign to identify, track, and mitigate the spread of novel SARS-CoV-2 strains.”

The AAMC also joined more than 40 stakeholders representing organizations, institutions, and companies in separate letters of endorsement sent to House and Senate sponsors on Feb. 11. “As new SARS-CoV-2 variants emerge, we need this sequencing capacity to identify, track, and mitigate the impact of these new strains, including conducting epidemiologic investigations to determine the significance of new variants on human health,” the stakeholders said.

“Currently, the U.S. lags far behind other countries in its ability to sequence viral samples. This funding will bring our nation up from a sequencing level of 0.3 percent to a level that allows for sequencing an adequate sample to estimate variant circulation nationally,” according to the letter.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee included $1.75 billion for increased SARS-CoV-2 genomic sequencing as part of its reconciliation bill for the next COVID-19 rescue package [see related story].

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