The head of the World Health Organization said on Monday that it’s important to step up genomic sequencing worldwide to ensure that new variants of the coronavirus are detected as the pandemic enters its second year.
New variants detected in Britain and South Africa that appear to be more infectious have caused concern and triggered new travel restrictions this month.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday from Geneva that “there will be setbacks and new challenges in the year ahead — for example new variants of COVID-19 and helping people who are tired of the pandemic to continue to combat it.”
He said that the WHO is working closely with scientists across the world to “better understand any and all changes to the virus” and their impact.
Mr. Tedros said he wanted to “underscore the importance of increasing genomic sequencing capacity worldwide” and of sharing information with the U.N. health agency and other countries. He said that “only if countries are looking and testing effectively will you be able to pick up variants and adjust strategies to cope.”
The study, which is funded by the U.S. government, is open to all adults but will focus on high-risk older adults and volunteers from Black and Hispanic communities who have been hard-hit by the virus. Two-thirds of volunteers will receive the vaccine and the rest will get dummy shots.
The Novavax candidate uses lab-grown harmless copies of the spike protein that coats the coronavirus to train the body to recognize if the real virus comes along. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines instead use a newer technology, injecting the genetic code for that protein.
In the U.S., Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca also have vaccine candidates in late-stage testing.
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