Clinical Labs’ Role in Identifying and Sequencing Variants During the COVID-19 Pandemic￼
Genetic variations in viruses are a common occurrence that naturally take place over time and can lead to the emergence of new variants with different characteristics. Understanding these variants, including the genetic makeup of the virus itself, is essential for public health efforts and is particularly important amid the current COVID-19 pandemic.
The key to identifying a virus starts with its genome, which is the set of genetic instructions used to build the virus. From there, scientists use a process called genomic sequencing to decode the genes and learn more about the virus, including how the virus mutates over time and which characteristics are present in different strains.
While scientists can use genetic sequencing to study everyday viruses, such as cancers, to help inform treatment plans for doctors and certain patients, sequencing to track the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a public health effort. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) uses genomic surveillance to track emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants, such as the most recent Delta and Omicron variants. By identifying different variants, public health experts can determine which variants produce the most severe symptoms as well as how the different variants may respond to vaccines. Through these efforts, public health partners can better inform pandemic response strategies, such as determining where testing is most needed at the national and local levels.
Utilizing this critical surveillance tool requires a level of collaboration across the entire health care continuum. In this era of unprecedented innovation and collaboration, several ACLA member labs are working in close coordination with the FDA, CDC and state and local public health labs to identify and sequence SARS-CoV-2 variants. ACLA members are armed with the personnel, scientific expertise and experience necessary to support sequencing efforts for emerging infectious disease variants.
Continuing this work is essential to better understanding the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuring a quick and nimble public health response as the virus evolves. Sequencing will remain a critical tool, particularly as scientists study the long-term impacts of the virus.