Aotearoa New Zealand emerged as a global leader in leveraging the power of genomics to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, as outlined in a new publication Exploring the Depth and Breadth of the Genomics Toolbox during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Insights from Aotearoa New Zealand.
Published in BMC Medicine, the open access article tracks Aotearoa’s genomics journey – from COVID-19 elimination to suppression strategies – in addressing the virus and provides insights into how the country’s experience can inform future use of genomics to prepare for disease outbreaks.
A key finding of the publication is there is no single mode of genetic surveillance, instead it must remain agile and ready to respond at short notice. Hand-in-hand with this agility is the need to make the explanation of genetic results accessible to a wide range of decision-makers and health professionals. The authors call for more accessible interfaces with data, alongside ongoing training of people who need to interweave genomic data into their decision-making.
As noted in the publications: “Prior to COVID-19, terms like ‘genes’ and ‘genomics’ in New Zealand likely conjured images of genetically modified organisms from polarising debates of two decades earlier. The use of mRNA vaccines and the well-publicised setup of real-time genomic tools for pandemic tracking and decision-making have brought the technology into the public eye.”
“We envisage a future where New Zealanders are better informed about the benefits (and risks) of embracing genetic technologies, how RNA-based therapeutics are game-changers, and how a health system where genomic data is integrated in an accessible way should be our preferred future pathway.”
The publication in BMC Medicine was co-authored by a group of New Zealand public health and genomic science specialists, including from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR).