Ongoing genomic scrutiny counselled

Jemma Geoghegan
Jemma Geoghegan
Once underestimated, powerful genomic tracing tools can "help tremendously" to protect New Zealand against Covid-19 even after a vaccine becomes available, Dunedin scientist Dr Jemma Geoghegan says.

Early in New Zealand’s overall pandemic response, the value of genomic sequencing was not fully appreciated, and only about half of the country’s positive viral samples were analysed in this way, she said.

However, Dr Geoghegan, of the University of Otago microbiology and immunology department, said that the value of genomic analysis was now "abundantly clear"and genomic sequencing was undertaken with all available positive tests of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Such sequencing had played a crucial role in responding to the Auckland Covid-19 outbreak in August and helped identify the likely countries of origin and whether cases belonged to any specific outbreak cluster.

Even after a vaccine was eventually developed and was being used in New Zealand, and border restrictions had been eased, genomics would remain "an incredibly useful tool" to protect our future health and safety.

"I’d like to see it prioritised in future outbreaks."

"Future ongoing genomics surveillance is important to ensure that any potential vaccines or other therapeutics would be effective against circulating variants of the virus," she said.

Dr Geoghegan is also an associate senior scientist at the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) and leads a national Covid-19 genomic sequencing group.

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