Tony Blair: harness technology to fight Covid variants of concern

Former UK prime minister part of new consortium advising leaders on combating pandemic

Tony Blair, seen here receiving his vaccine, says that unchecked variants of concern could scupper vaccination drive. Courtesy of Tony Blair Institute
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A new consortium launched on Friday to tackle coronavirus and future pandemics called for the formation of a new global body to oversee technological solutions for problematic viral mutations.

The Global Health Security Consortium is an elision of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine and a team of scientists at the University of Oxford.

Its first paper, Tech Solutions for Global Genomic Sequencing and Surveillance, addresses how technology can combat Covid variants of concern (VOCs) and viral escape – when these strains evade the body's immune response and vaccines.

Three core policy recommendations emerge from the paper.

They centre around identifying the most promising technology to strengthen cloud-based genomic sequence data analysis and storage, providing robust funding to support this work, and founding a World Health Organisation-convened body to regulate, standardise and incentivise global technology solutions.

The Global Health Security Consortium is unequivocal as to why these policies should be adopted, warning of the profound dangers of viral escape.

“If VOCs achieve escape, new strains of Covid-19 could infect and kill at a global scale, even after we achieve mass vaccination.”

Our aim is to help turn ideas into reality that changes lives for the better

“Genomic sequencing and surveillance at scale would allow the global community to identify VOCs and their spread earlier so that we can respond rapidly with appropriate vaccines (including boosters), treatments, and policy and public health measures.”

The paper advocates shared platforms for data to enable earlier public health interventions, and suggests that principles set up now to tackle coronavirus can be applied to fight other infectious diseases.

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair, who founded the institute involved in the futuristic project, said the consortium would “always look to push the boundaries of what is politically and scientifically possible but also commit to presenting clear and actionable roadmaps that leaders can put to use”.

“Our aim is to help turn ideas into reality that changes lives for the better,” he said.