US commits $1 bn for rapid, at-home Covid tests

The White House has announced investment worth $1 billion worth for rapid, at-home coronavirus tests to address ongoing shortages.

The move will quadruple the number of tests available to Americans by December, Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, was quoted as saying at a press briefing on Wednesday.

“That means, we’ll have an available supply of 200 million rapid, at-home tests per month starting in December, with a supply of tens of millions of additional tests coming on the market across the next few weeks,” he said.

This follows the authorisation of the sale of a new antigen test from the US-based Acon Laboratories on Monday by the Food and Drug Administration.

The authorisation accelerates this pace, and we are now on track to triple the number by early November, Zients said.

Besides at-home testing, the Joe Biden administration is also increasing access to free testing, which has been central to the country’s Covid response.

In early September, Biden also committed to expand the number of pharmacies in the federal government’s free testing programme to 10,000 local pharmacies across the country. It has now doubled “to a total of 20,000 local pharmacies”, Zients said.

In addition, 10,000 other community-based free testing sites are also available in the country.

According to public health experts, the roll out of at-home tests to 200 million per month was long overdue.

“This is a big deal. The White House is beginning to take testing as seriously as they’ve taken vaccinations,” Scott Becker, chief executive of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, was quoted as saying by The Washington Post.

Becker noted that low availability of rapid tests had hampered efforts to track and combat the surge of coronavirus cases driven by the highly transmissible delta variant.

While the FDA has authorised several at-home tests, the experts criticised the agency for not moving faster to greenlight more of them to expedite the tests’ availability, the report said.

“These tests are cheap to make, and there’s a lot of demand for it out there,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, was quoted as saying.

“The reason the market hasn’t worked is because the FDA has made it very difficult for these tests to get out into the marketplace,” he added.