WASHINGTON — Millions more home tests for COVID-19 are hitting store shelves, but will there be enough for Americans hoping to screen themselves before holiday gatherings?
Gone are last year’s long lines to get tested, thanks to nearly a year of vaccinations, increased testing supplies and quicker options. But with many Americans unvaccinated and reports of infections among those who’ve gotten the shots, some are looking to home tests for an extra layer of protection ahead of this year’s festivities.
Janis Alpine, a Seattle resident, is bringing seven family members to Thanksgiving with her. This includes her father (97 years old) She plans to provide enough Abbott rapid testing for everyone to be vaccinated.
“I’m just used to testing now,” said Alpine, who is retired. “Even though he’s vaccinated, just getting a little bit sick is probably not the best thing for a 97-year-old.”
After returning from vacations in Las Vegas, she began to test herself every week. She usually purchases five tests at once, as local pharmacies can sometimes run out.
Walgreens and CVS have declared that they now have sufficient supplies after weeks of supply shortages. They also recently relaxed the limits on how many items can be bought at once. After test companies increased production thanks to more than $3B in government aid and purchasing agreements, the shift has been made. The home tests usually cost more than $10 and last about fifteen minutes.
Health experts are warning that there could be a sudden winter surge in supplies despite the improved picture. This is especially true if colder weather and holiday gatherings continue to cause new outbreaks throughout the country. They also note that the U.S. does not have the same cheap, widespread, or even free, testing as some European countries who were the first to adopt the technology.
“Unfortunately, we’re still going to be playing catch-up until next year or until demand subsides,” said Neil Sehgal, a health policy specialist at the University of Maryland.
White House officials claim the U.S. has about 200 million home test per month until December. That’s nearly quadruple the numbers from last summer. However, there are still shortages of spot tests, especially in suburban areas with higher testing rates.
“I couldn’t find them for the longest time,” said Denise Weiss, a retired musician in suburban Philadelphia.
She purchased six test online and will share these with her family, including her sons and daughters who travel home by train and plane for Thanksgiving.
Abbott claims that it can now produce 50 million BinaxNow testing kits per month after cutting production in summer, when demand for the product plummeted. With only a handful of home testing available in the country, new tests from Acon Laboratories are expected to be launched.
Much of the upcoming supply won’t be available at places like CVS, Walmart and Target. Federal and state officials will distribute bulk purchases to schools, hospitals, and other government institutions.
Private universities and large employers are buying millions of test kits. Under the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large employers, workers who haven’t been vaccinated are supposed to get tested weekly starting in January.
“We have a little bit of a challenge right now and the math is not perfect” said Mara Aspinall, a health industry researcher at Arizona State University. “While having these tests on the shelves is terrific so people can feel empowered personally, we also have to balance where they are going.”
Pressured by the Biden administration the Food and Drug Administration cleared home testing at a quicker pace. It authorized four of 13 test in the two-months that have passed. The White House announced recently that it will be working with the National Institutes of Health to vet promising applicants. Companies will need to wait for the test to be made and distributed.
The United States invested hugely in vaccines at the beginning, believing that widespread immunity would end the epidemic. However, 60 million Americans ages 12 to 64 are not yet vaccinated. Experts believe that all regions of the nation remain vulnerable to pandemics such as those occurring in New Mexico or Michigan.
For testing advocates, the pandemic’s persistence underscores the need for rapid, widespread COVID-19 screening to quickly catch infections before they spread– an approach they have championed since the beginning of the U.S. outbreak.
Britain, for example, offers billions of free tests and encourages testing at least twice per week. In a report, Kaiser Family Foundation researchers noted that the U.S. would need to administer 2.3 billion test per month for all children 12 years and over. That’s more than seven times the 300 million monthly tests officials are hoping the country will have by February.
Follow Matthew Perrone via Twitter @AP_FDAwriter
The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. All content remains the responsibility of the Associated Press.