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Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House announced Friday that the federal government will invest $1.7 billion in funding from the American Rescue Plan to "improve the detection, monitoring, and mitigation" of COVID-19 variants.

Why it matters: New and dangerous virus strains make up half of all cases in America today and risk prolonging the pandemic. Some are more contagious than the original virus.

By the numbers: $1 billion in funding will expand genomic sequencing so states and localities can better detect and track variants.

  • $400 million will go toward innovation initiatives, including the launch of six Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology, to develop surveillance methods for tracking pathogens and fuel "cutting-edge research" on genomic epidemiology.
  • $300 million will be allocated to help build out and support a National Bioinformatics Infrastructure that can collect data and help experts "connect the dots between how pathogens spread and mutate to help solve outbreaks."

The big picture: At a briefing Friday, top health officials maintained the importance of continuing to vaccinate despite concerns about Johnson & Johnson's vaccine.

Go deeper: Explore Axios' live variant tracker

Go deeper

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: First known U.S. case of Omicron variant identified in California — America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron — CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers.
  2. Politics: Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come — Meta removes accounts linked to COVID disinformation effort by China.
  3. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine.
  4. World: Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people — Omicron variant detected in more countriesWHO advises people 60 or older to postpone travel due to Omicron
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

J&J vaccine pause hurts its reputation

Reproduced from Economist/YouGov poll; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans' confidence in the safety of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine took a big dip this week after the pause in its use, per new YouGov polling, even though the risk of blood clots following the shot is extremely low, if it exists at all.

Why it matters: For the majority of people, particularly high-risk Americans, getting the J&J shot is almost certainly less dangerous than remaining vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Apr 16, 2021 - Health

Winning the war on COVID is good for insurers

A pharmacy student administering a coronavirus vaccine to another student at Florida International University on April 15 in Miami. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A Wall Street Journal piece on UnitedHealth's quarterly results shows a first-quarter profit that was better than expected.

Driving the news: That profit was driven in part by the fact that its COVID costs declined — and the company now expects to do better for the rest of the year too, the Journal reports.