Monday, December 20, 2021


To better reduce COVID-19 transmission, the U.S. must learn from Europe. Americans need cheap or free at-home COVID-19 antigen testing kits. According to medical experts, they give a result in 15 minutes and typically identify 98% of infectious cases. Getting millions of at-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-19 infection. Vaccinated or not, you can take actions to curb viral transmission to others or, if appropriate, seek medical help. At-home tests address COVID-19 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 at-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 the government, including quarantines, lockdowns, school closings and use of vaccine credentials.

Europe’s smarter approach has resulted in 39 rapid self-administered antigen tests authorized by the EU, and over 100 authorized in all of Europe. The U.S. has approved just 12, and only nine of them 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.

In France, Germany and Belgium, at-home tests are ubiquitous and as cheap as a cup of coffee. Sustained public funding has come from European governments to allow companies to produce huge supplies.

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 U.S. is far behind.

Ideally, at-home test results should qualify people to engage in activities where onerous vaccine mandates or lab PCR tests are used. Tests that provide some documentation of a negative result are needed.

The government has spent 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-19 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.

White House Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci has not used his considerable power to get FDA and CDC to approve many at-home tests and get free ones to U.S. households.

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. She 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 Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University.

Eric Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, called rapid testing a “wealthy, urban privilege. Most of rural America can’t afford it.”

Tinglong Dai, a professor at Johns Hopkins Carey Business School, said current prices are vastly higher than public health experts 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.”

Dr. Michael Mina, 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 at-home tests online or in a store, they will likely cost from about $25 to $35, sometimes even $50 to nearly $100 for a kit that provides two tests. That is too expensive for frequent and family use.

The government should pay for at-home tests as they now do for COVID-19 lab testing. Medical insurance may not cover costs for at-home tests.

Understand this: There will be no return to safe, normal life everywhere until people can easily get at-home tests either for free or at a very low cost. It’s 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.

It’s about time the Biden administration confronted the testing problem head-on. 

• Dr. Joel S. Hirschhorn, author of Pandemic Blunder and many articles and podcasts on the pandemic. He is a member of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and America’s Frontline Doctors.

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