“We have learned absolutely nothing”: Tests may still be in short supply if Covid grows

“If we get to the point where companies are really cutting lines or firing people – not investing in the Covid test market – and we have another growth, then we will not be ready to go,” said Tom Inglesby, White House. Told POLITICO a senior adviser to Covid’s response. “We will be in a situation that is potentially much worse than what we had with Omicron.”

Covid-19 infections are recurring in several European countries and in Biden officials Control infections In the United Kingdom, where cases Jumped More than 36 percent last week. Meanwhile, the number of molecular tests sent each week by major manufacturers in the U.S. has dropped by more than 50 percent in the last month.

Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said the U.S. was repeating the same mistakes it made last summer when demand for testing fell and test makers cut production.

“It’s like the system learned absolutely nothing during this pandemic,” Becker said. “I have no reason to think that this will not happen again, because they have no demand.”

Concerns about the delivery of the test come as the Biden administration warns Congress that unless it soon allocates more than $ 22 billion in additional funding, the administration will not be able to purchase new supplies of medicines, vaccines, masks and tests. The White House on Tuesday plans to cut federal subsidies that provide free trials for uninsured people due to lack of funding.

Without enough testing, public health officials will not be able to detect new epidemics and concern options in a timely manner, says Dan Lee, senior vice president of life sciences and growth at Covid-19 testing and sequencing company Helix.

“Insurance testing affects about 30 million people in the United States,” Lim said. “You will get less complete data. And unfortunately, this is less complete data in some areas where you are expecting the highest transmission. So we expect this to have an impact on oversight. ”

Jennifer Nutso, Johns Hopkins’s epidemiologist, said it was crucial that the U.S. retain the ability to quickly catch new epidemics of Covid-19 now that it has backed down on mitigation measures such as masked mandates in many places.

“I’m more excited about our oversight than I have ever been,” Nutso said. “We are at a stage where numbers are declining. You need a brighter light to illuminate problems before they become huge than before.”

Nevertheless, there is a growing consensus that the US is still failing to train and private companies may not conduct sufficient tests or retain adequate staff. Without “certain incentives or price guarantees” from the federal government, said William Morris, president of the Mayo Clinic Laboratories.

“If we see another big peak in business, we will see exactly the same thing that will happen in testing, where it will take some time, at least three or four weeks, to try and achieve significant opportunities. “- said Morris, who is also the Chairman of the Board of the American Association of Clinical Laboratories. “It will be too late to do some of the things they really want to do in terms of mitigation efforts.”

Federal health officials are considering ideas submitted for a recent request for information aimed at driving new investment, partly aimed at subsidizing production during periods of low demand to maintain capacity to increase Covid-19 testing, even when demand is low. But the White House warns that Covid-19’s retaliatory funds are running out.

Of the $ 47.8 billion US rescue plan for testing and mitigation, more than $ 45 billion is “committed or completed,” $ 2.6 billion has been allocated, and none remains available for new initiatives, according to the Covid-19 funding table adopted in February. By POLITICO.

White House officials said without the new congressional funds they would not have the resources to respond to Covid’s growth. It is unclear whether Congress will allow the new money after Democrats rebelled against a plan to use the funds allocated for state aid.

One Democrat aide in the Senate, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that several lawmakers were disappointed with what they perceived as inadequate records of how previous aid funding was spent. Some are also angry that they are being asked to spend more after the Covid-19 response The CDC has released instructions on its repayment Last month.

“We are seeing a decrease in numbers and so I think because of this, the people on the ground do not really understand why we should continue to buy these items,” said the assistant. “It sounds awful, but people are just worried about it. And no one wants to talk about it. ”

At the Capitol Hill impasse stands a blow from public health experts and test creators who are concerned that preparedness is deteriorating despite cases of a more contagious BA.2 Omicron subtype despite the threat of a resurgence.

“It is not really understood that public health is prevention and preparedness, which means you are not expecting a crisis,” said Celine Gonder, an infectious disease specialist who served on Biden’s Covid-19 Advisory Board during the transition and now Senior Fellow and Editor in Public Health at Kaiser Family Foundation and Kaiser Health News. “You are not reactive, you are proactive.”

The test manufacturers told administration officials that demand had fallen so sharply that without existing investment – as well as a government commitment to test 1 billion homes – they would have already closed the lines. To date, White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said the government has signed a contract to test more than 700 million homes.

And Mara Aspinal, Rockefeller Foundation’s Covid-19 testing advisor and board member of test developer OraSure Technologies, said she knows of some manufacturers that reduce production shifts.

The average four-week moving average for molecular tests sent to the U.S. is 4.7 million, down from 10.8 million a month ago. According to the register 13 diagnostic manufacturer shipments conducted by AdvaMed, a trading group.

“The lack of adequate production capacity leading to the Covid-19 pandemic, and sometimes even to it, has contributed to a shortage of testing,” said Susan Van Meter, CEO of AdvaMedDx. Wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services last week. “To avoid this problem in the future, the federal government should contract with diagnostic manufacturers who have invested in expanded capacity during the Covid-19 pandemic to maintain this increased level of production.”

iHealth CEO Jack Feng told POLITICO that his company – which imports a significant number of tests produced in China – has seen a significant drop in demand for tests in the US over the past few weeks.

“We do not send more tests to the United States because demand is quite stable, we have enough supplies,” Feng said. With the increase in Covid-19 cases in China, Chinese manufacturer iHealth is prioritizing delivering tests to “the Chinese government and people,” he added.

iHealth, which Gained emergency use authorization for its testing from the FDA in January, Is in the process of setting up production in California. But it will take at least two months to hire staff and set up production lines if all goes well – a period that can last from six months to a year if demand remains low, according to Feng.

“We have learned absolutely nothing”: Tests may still be in short supply if Covid grows

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