Biden health official defends efforts to boost rapid COVID-19 tests

Biden health official defends efforts to boost rapid COVID-19 tests
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A top Biden administration health official on Friday acknowledged there is currently a shortage of rapid, at-home coronavirus tests, but said the U.S. is on track to double the number of ones available.

Overall testing capacity is "robust," White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff ZientsJeff ZientsWTO faces renewed scrutiny amid omicron threat Overnight Health Care — Presented by March of Dimes — Abortion access for 65M women at stake Biden administration to ship 11 million vaccine doses abroad MORE said during a briefing, but he added that "the at-home rapid test is under a lot of demand." 

Major retailers like Walmart, CVS and Amazon can't keep enough tests in stock, and some have even placed limits on how many kits customers can buy.

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Zients said the administration's recent efforts should help to both improve the number of tests and also make them more affordable.

"We will continue to pull every lever we can to increase the convenience of rapid at-home testing," he said.  

The White House last week announced the purchase of $2 billion worth of tests, both over-the-counter and point-of-care tests, which can be used in schools, nursing homes, local medical clinics and prisons. 

That funding "gives the manufacturers the confidence to increase their capacity. We are actually on track to double the number of rapid tests in the market in the next 60 days," Zients said. 

Manufacturers cut supply as infections dropped during the spring and summer, and are now scrambling to ramp up operations as demand spikes. But that shift is likely to take weeks.

Zients said manufacturing is scaling up "significantly. We're just going to keep at it to encourage those manufacturers to increase capacity and drive down the costs of those tests."

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At-home tests, which can deliver results in as little as 15 minutes, are seen as a key tool to use for schools, workplaces and large events like conferences, concerts and weddings. They're regularly used overseas, but the U.S. has been far more cautious in allowing rapid tests to come to the market.

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized tests from only about six different companies, and they can cost between $10 and $15 per test. 

As part of the administration's new plan, Walmart, Amazon and Kroger agreed to sell tests for “up to 35 percent less” than current retail prices for three months.