Shortage of home COVID-19 tests hurts fight against pandemic, experts say


The U.S. has a surplus of coronavirus vaccines. What it lacks, in contrast to international locations in Asia and Europe, is an sufficient provide of speedy COVID-19 tests that Americans can administer within the consolation of their very own home. 

Try to get your arms on a pack of over-the-counter COVID-19 tests at your native pharmacy and you will probably discover empty cabinets. If any are in stock, they are going to value roughly $24 a pair — a hefty value for a lot of Americans. That helps clarify why it’s the norm for shoppers to test their well being standing solely when touring or attending a particular occasion, relatively than utilizing a speedy antigen take a look at recurrently, which experts say is a more practical approach to comprise the illness.

To alleviate the issue, the Biden administration this month introduced it might make investments $1 billion to broaden the availability of at-home COVID-19 tests. President Joe Biden in September invoked the Defense Production Act to extend the manufacturing of speedy testing kits and assist main retailers make them extra accessible. He additionally pledged $2 billion to make roughly 280 million tests, though that quantities to lower than one take a look at a year per U.S. resident.

“The core issue Biden is focused on is providing cheaper tests with broader access,” mentioned Mara Aspinall, co-founder of the biomedical diagnostics program at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions and a board member at Orasure, which makes an over-the-counter COVID-19 take a look at. 

There’s nonetheless a lot to be performed. Retailers corresponding to Kroger, Target and Walmart promote tests at a sale value of round $15 for two. On Walmart’s web site, a two-pack of Orasure’s InteliSwab speedy antigen take a look at discounted to $14 is bought out. Abbott Labs’ BinaxNow take a look at can be out of stock at CVS Pharmacy sells Abbott’s take a look at on its web site for $24, and limits prospects to 6 bins every. 

At such costs, the tests are financially out of attain for a lot of American households. 

“The cost for a week for a family of four is still a very large number. And even people who can afford that don’t want to pay that much money and as a result they are saying, ‘Do I really need to test?’ And they are saving the test they buy for the special event,” Aspinall mentioned. 

Where COVID-19 tests are free

By distinction, ample authorities subsidies imply tests are free and broadly out there in different international locations world wide, together with France, Germany and the U.Ok.

In the U.S., Aspinall thinks that driving the worth all the way down to not more than $3 per take a look at would encourage extra folks to recurrently test themselves for the virus, serving to to restrict infections.

“The U.S. made a mistake by not focusing enough on testing as part of the fight against COVID-19,” she mentioned. “Maybe we were overconfident and overoptimistic, but we hoped the vaccines would fight enough that we wouldn’t need testing. But that didn’t turn out to be the case.” 

The dearth of reasonably priced COVID-19 tests comes because the extremely contagious Delta variant ends in many “breakthrough” COVID-19 instances, whereas information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention present that solely 67% of eligible Americans are absolutely vaccinated, Meanwhile, many employers are mandating that staff both be absolutely vaccinated or undergo common COVID-19 testing. 

Not sufficient give attention to testing

As a consequence, producers and the federal government have been caught flat-footed. “We did not expect this sort of demand at this point in the pandemic. So the manufacturing lines have to be built and expanded to meet this demand,” Aspinall mentioned. 

Stefanie Friedhoff, a professor specializing in the pandemic at Brown University’s School of Public Health, famous that the U.S. emphasis on vaccines as a approach to assault the virus diminished the motivation for take a look at producers to ramp up manufacturing. 

“Those companies that had invested in making them did not have a market in the U.S. for so long, so they shipped them to other countries or they stopped making them,” she mentioned.

“Why would they invest in making a test if they weren’t sure anyone would buy them?” Friedhoff added. “The tests weren’t required, and there was also this continued thinking that you needed a doctor to observe you taking a test through a televisit. There were lots of hurdles and complications to just empowering people to take them at home.”

Aspinall believes broader availability of speedy tests, together with different mitigating measures corresponding to vaccine mandates, might successfully finish the pandemic. “If we had a testing regimen that was a regular process for even asymptomatic people who have been vaccinated and we could do this broadly and we had enough tests — many more than we had today — we could end this in a few months.

Now, the U.S. is playing catch-up with other countries that invested earlier in at-home testing.

“I feel now there’s a recognition {that a} technique of utilizing vaccines and at-home testing and acceptable hygiene measures is the best way we are able to return to a totally regular society,” mentioned Carri Chan, a well being care operations professor at Columbia Business School. 

Parents uncertain about COVID vaccine for youths


The Biden administration’s funding in boosting COVID-19 take a look at manufacturing is a step in the precise course, however it will not be ample to maintain the market, experts mentioned. 

“The challenge going forward and using them in the return to fully normal is the cost for them right now,” Chan mentioned. “They are not yet at a point where they could be used as a monitoring device because they need to be used more often, and that becomes prohibitive if you’re taking it twice a week at $10 a pop. It’s expensive in contrast to other countries.”

Ramping up manufacturing

Stephen Tang, CEO of OraSure, a diagnostics and testing company that makes a speedy at-home COVID-19 take a look at, urged authorities officers to take steps to make sure widespread, reasonably priced testing. Today, his company can produce 70 million tests per year, with plans to ramp as much as 120 million.

OraSure has a one-year $205 million contract with the federal authorities that Tang mentioned will assist it present tests to nursing properties, prisons, convalescent care amenities and different settings the place extra testing is required. 

“We are hoping testing is a regular part of individual hygiene and industrial hygiene,” he mentioned. “That anytime anyone is responsible for gathering people, they should buy the tests for people to use so they can conduct the tests themselves and know the results in 30 minutes.”

New COVID guidelines for worldwide vacationers


A spokesperson for Abbott, which makes a BinaxNOW speedy take a look at, mentioned the company is seeing “unprecedented demand” for the product and that it has been ramping up manufacturing because the emergence of the Delta variant. By the tip of October, the company will likely be producing greater than 50 million tests per thirty days, in response to the spokesperson.

“This isn’t a situation of either/or – it has to be both: vaccines and testing,” the spokesperson mentioned. 

Experts say speedy coronavirus tests are important in locations like faculties, the place most kids are unvaccinated and should quarantine on the onset of signs. 

“The great thing about rapid antigen tests is they give you a rapid result. That’s their advantage,” mentioned Dr. Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar on the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who has been monitoring the manufacturing of COVID-19 tests. “There are characteristics of these tests that make them much better for reducing the likelihood that someone is infectious and around someone who is vulnerable, and it’s clear people want them.”

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