To better reduce COVID transmission the US must learn from Europe. Americans need cheap or free home COVID antigen testing kits. They give a result in 15 minutes and typically identify 98 percent of infectious cases, according to medical experts.
Getting many millions of home tests to Americans is the most important action the government can do.
Have worrisome symptoms or contact with someone who has tested positive? You can quickly and reliably discover whether you have a COVID infection. Vaccinated or not, you can take actions to curb viral transmission to others or, if appropriate, seek medical help. Home tests address COVID surges and concerns about new variants by helping people with mild symptoms and a positive test use telemedicine to get advice and avoid overwhelmed hospitals.
Frequent home tests can give you a normal life. They should be as handy as a thermometer. Reduce the ordeal of getting a lab test scheduled and waiting days for the result. Easy test access fits with medical freedom and personalized medicine principles. Curtailing virus transmission beats disruptive actions by government, including quarantines, lockdowns, school closings and use of vaccine credentials.
Europe doing better
Europe’s smarter approach has resulted in 39 rapid self-administered antigen tests being authorized by the European Union and over 100 in all of Europe. The US has authorized just 12 and only nine of which are available without a prescription. No prescription should be needed.
In Britain, people can get free rapid tests delivered to their homes on demand. Pharmacies offer free packs of seven tests that people can take at home.
The U.K. allocated $50 billion over two years to set up a national test and trace program that delivers rapid tests to anyone upon request. It hasn’t worked perfectly but the US is far behind.
Ideally, home test results should qualify people to engage in activities where onerous vaccine mandates or lab PCR tests are being used. Tests that provide some documentation of a negative result are needed.
The government has spent many billions of dollars on vaccines and now new pills from Merck and Pfizer. They have spent too little on home testing. Why?
Regular PCR tests give the government data on positive cases. These maintain fear and acceptance of COVID vaccines, despite known high levels of false positive results.
Both the Trump and Biden administrations bet everything on vaccines ending the pandemic. Wrong gamble. Time to give power to American households by getting tests into home medicine cabinets.
Fauci has not used his considerable power to get FDA and CDC to approve many home tests and getting free ones to US households.
Consensus comments by medical experts
Contrasting vaccines and home testing, “It feels like in one place we’re in a rocket ship and in another place we’re on training wheels,” said Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., who is a former pediatrician. He has pushed the FDA to authorize more tests.
“Paying $25 for a box of two tests is ridiculous. They should cost $5 for two tests. Frankly, it’s a travesty that in the middle of a pandemic we have such poor access to rapid testing.” said Carlos del Rio, MD, of Emory University.
Eric Feigl-Ding, of the Federation of American Scientists, called rapid testing a “wealthy, urban privilege. Most of rural America can’t afford it.”
“Tinglong Dai, PhD, of Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, said current prices are vastly higher than what public health experts had initially expected.
“Should we have had an equivalent of Operation Warp Speed for testing?” asked Mara Aspinall, a professor at Arizona State University. “Absolutely. … it needs to be thought of as the core.”
Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said that “every household should have a supply.”
Michael Mina, MD, PhD, of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health said that the “government should subsidize cost fully” for the tests, noting that they’re “NOT a luxury. NOT personal medicine,” but that they are “critical public health tools.” Amen.
If you can find approved home tests online or in a store, they will likely cost from about $25 to $35, and sometimes even $50 to nearly $100 for a kit that provides two tests. Too much for very frequent and family use.
The government should pay for home tests as they now do for COVID lab testing. Medical insurance may not cover costs for home tests.
Understand this: There will be no return to safe normal life everywhere until people can easily get home tests either for free or at a very low cost. Especially relevant to gatherings where people could take a fast test to verify that no viral transmission is likely.
Neil Sehgal, at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, said. that even though antigen tests are not foolproof at detecting the virus, “they are sensitive enough to give you a pretty realistic sense of whether you pose a risk to the people you’re gathering with” — because you’re actively contagious.
By Dr. Joel S. Hirschhorn
Dr. Joel S. Hirschhorn, author of Pandemic Blunder and many articles and podcasts on the pandemic, worked on health issues for decades, and his Pandemic Blunder Newsletter is on Substack. As a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he directed a medical research program between the colleges of engineering and medicine. As a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association, he directed major studies on health-related subjects; he testified at over 50 US Senate and House hearings and authored hundreds of articles and op-ed articles in major newspapers. He has served as an executive volunteer at a major hospital for more than 10 years. He is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, and America’s Frontline Doctors.