WASHINGTON — U.S. scientists would gain vastly expanded capabilities to identify potentially deadlier coronavirus mutations under legislation advancing in Congress. A House bill headed for floor debate would provide $1.75 billion for genomic sequencing.
The U.S. now maps only the genetic makeup of a minuscule fraction of positive virus samples, a situation some experts liken to flying blind. It means the true domestic spread of problematic mutations first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa remains a matter of guesswork.
Such ignorance could prove costly. One worry is that more transmissible forms such as the UK variant could move faster than the nation’s ability to get the vaccine into Americans’ arms.
“You’ve got a small number of academic and public health labs that have been basically doing the genomic surveillance,” said David O’Connor, an AIDS researcher at the University of Wisconsin. “But there is no national coherence to the strategy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is trying to