New hurdle for COVID-19 home testing — the holiday season

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Holiday season may hit COVID-19 home testing supplies as more Americans try to screen themselves ahead of Thanksgiving and other family gatherings

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WASHINGTON — Millions more home tests for COVID-19 are hitting store shelves, but will that be enough for Americans hoping to screen themselves ahead of holiday celebrations?

Last year’s long lines for testing were gone, thanks to nearly a year of vaccinations, increased testing supplies, and faster options. But with many Americans not vaccinated and reports of infections among those taking the shot, some are looking to at-home tests for an added layer of protection ahead of this year’s festivities.

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“I’m used to testing now,” said Alpine, who has retired. “Even if he has been vaccinated, being just a little bit sick is probably not the best thing for a 97-year-old.”

She began testing herself regularly in September following flights to Las Vegas and on vacation to the East Coast. Since local pharmacies sometimes run out of 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 enough supplies and recently removed limits on how many can be bought at one time. The change came after test makers ramped up production, raking in more than $3 billion in new procurement contracts and aid from the government. Home tests typically cost over $10 each and take about 15 minutes.

White House officials say the US is on pace to conduct about 200 million home tests per month by December, which would quadruple the number this summer. Still, there continues to be a lack of space, especially in cities and suburban communities with high rates of testing.

“I couldn’t find him for the longest time,” said Dennis Weiss, a retired musician in suburban Philadelphia.

Market leader Abbott says it is back to producing 50 million of its Binax Now tests per month when test demand declined after a production loss last summer. Only a few in-house tests are widely available across the country, with new launches to be done, including those from Akon Laboratories.

Most of the incoming supplies won’t be available at places like CVS, Walmart, and Target. Bulk purchases by federal and state officials will be distributed to community health centers, nursing homes, schools and other government facilities.

Big employers and private universities are also buying millions of tests. Under the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large employers, workers who haven’t been vaccinated must be tested weekly starting in January.

“We have a little bit of a challenge right now and the math isn’t perfect,” said health industry researcher Mara Espinol of Arizona State University. “While it’s great to have these tests on the shelves so people can feel personally empowered, we also have to balance where they’re going.”

Under pressure from the Biden administration, the Food and Drug Administration is rapidly approving home tests, authorizing 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 would help the most promising. But it will take time for companies to build and distribute the tests.

The US made a huge initial investment in vaccines, essentially betting that widespread immunity would crush the pandemic. But with nearly 60 million Americans age 12 and older still not vaccinated, experts say every region of the country is still vulnerable to the types of outbreaks spreading in states like Michigan and New Mexico.

For testing advocates, the persistence of the pandemic underscores the need for rapid, widespread COVID-19 screening to quickly catch infections before they spread – an approach they have championed since the start of the US outbreak.

Countries like the UK distribute billions of tests for free and recommend testing twice a week. Researchers from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation noted in a recent report that if the US took this approach for everyone 12 and older, it would need 2.3 billion tests per month. That’s more than seven times the 300 million monthly testing officials are hoping the country will have by February.

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Follow Matthew Perrone on Twitter: @—FDAwriter

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. is solely responsible for all content.

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