Millions of more home tests for COVID-19 are coming to stores, but will there be enough for Americans hoping to get tested before holiday gatherings?
No more long queues last year to get tested, thanks to nearly a year of vaccinations, increased testing supplies and faster options. But with many Americans unvaccinated and reports of infections among those who have received the vaccines, some are looking to home testing for an extra layer of protection ahead of this year’s festivities.
Janis Alpine from Seattle reunites with seven parents for Thanksgiving, including her 97-year-old father. While everyone is vaccinated, she plans to bring enough Abbott rapid tests for them to use.
“I’m just used to testing now,” said Alpine, who is retired. “Even if he’s vaccinated, getting a little sick is probably not the best thing for a 97-year-old man.”
She began testing herself regularly in September after flying to Las Vegas and the East Coast for vacation. Because local pharmacies sometimes sell tests, she usually buys five packs at a time when she finds them.
After weeks of shortages, chains like CVS and Walgreens now say they have sufficient stocks and recently lifted limits on the number of products that can be purchased at one time. The change comes after test makers ramped up production, spurred by more than $ 3 billion in new purchase contracts and government aid. Home tests typically cost over $ 10 each and take about 15 minutes.
Despite the improvement in the situation, health experts warn that a winter surge could easily overwhelm supplies, especially if holiday gatherings and colder weather continue to trigger new epidemics across the country. And, they note, the United States is still a long way from having the kind of widespread cheap or free testing seen in some European countries that were early adopters of the technology.
“Unfortunately, we’re still going to catch up until next year or until demand decreases,” said Neil Sehgal, health policy specialist at the University of Maryland.
White House officials say the United States is on track to have around 200 million home tests per month by December, quadrupling the number this summer. Yet one-time shortages continue, especially in cities and suburban communities with higher testing rates.
“I couldn’t find them for a very long time,” said Denise Weiss, a retired musician from the Philadelphia suburbs.
She was able to take six tests online last month and plans to share them with family members, especially her son and daughter who are flying home and traveling home for Thanksgiving.
Market leader Abbott said it was back to producing 50 million of its BinaxNow tests per month, after cutting production last summer when demand for tests plummeted. Only a few home tests are widely available across the country and new tests will be launched, notably by Acon Laboratories.
Much of the upcoming offering won’t be available in places like CVS, Walmart, and Target. Bulk purchases made by federal and state officials will be distributed to community health centers, nursing homes, schools and other government facilities.
Large employers and private universities also buy millions of tests. As part of the Biden administration’s vaccination mandate for large employers, workers who have not been vaccinated are expected to get tested weekly starting in January.
“We have a little challenge right now and the math isn’t perfect,” said Mara Aspinall, a health care researcher at Arizona State University. “While these off-the-shelf tests are great for people to feel personally empowered, we also need to find a balance in their direction. “
Under pressure from the Biden administration, the Food and Drug Administration authorized home testing at a faster rate, allowing four of the 13 tests now available in the past two months. In an unusual move, the White House recently announced that the National Institutes of Health will help examine the most promising. But it will take time for companies to manufacture and distribute the tests.
The United States made huge initial investments in vaccines, essentially betting that widespread immunity would crush the pandemic. But with an estimated 60 million Americans aged 12 and over still unvaccinated, experts say every region of the country is still vulnerable to the kind of epidemics that are breaking out in states like Michigan and New Mexico. .
For testing advocates, the persistence of the pandemic underscores the need for rapid and widespread testing for COVID-19 to quickly detect infections before they spread – an approach they have championed since the start of the test. the epidemic in the United States.
Countries like Britain are giving away billions of tests for free and recommend testing them twice a week. If the United States took this approach for everyone aged 12 and over, it would need 2.3 billion tests per month, researchers from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation noted in a recent report. That’s more than seven times the 300 million monthly tests officials hope the country will have by February.
Follow Matthew Perrone on Twitter: @AP_FDAwriter