U.S. manufacturers are sharply increasing production of cheaper, faster … but less accurate … COVID-19 antigen tests -pushing for 100 million a month by the end of the year - which could support the reopening of schools and offices.
More than half a dozen different antigen tests are likely to be authorized for production by the end of October, according to manufacturing and government sources.
Regulators have already authorized antigen tests from companies like Becton Dickson & Co, as well as Abbott Laboratories, Quidel Corp and LumiraDX.
They currently have the capacity to make around 40 million a month but hope to double that by year end, according to Reuters analysis. The benefit of antigen tests, which scan for the proteins found in or on a virus, is that they can be done much faster than others -within 15 minutes -and cost as little as $5 each. Other longer and more expensive diagnostic tests include PCR tests, which detect the disease by looking for traces of the virus' genetic material on a sample. They often cost $100, and results CAN take days to get back from a lab.
There are also antibody tests which detects if a person has had the virus. However, a problem with antigen tests is reliability: they typically detect the virus around 80 to 90% of the time - far below the 95% lab-based test results - meaning false negatives could raise the likelihood sick people spread the disease without knowing.
Dr John Whyte - medical officer from WEBMD- Says the answer is better tests: "We need to demand quicker tests that are just as accurate … Let's have a rapid test so we can do more testing and do it more quickly. But let's make sure that we manage those false-positives and false-negatives and get people the most accurate information as quickly as possible."
A lack of testing with little federal coordination early in the pandemic hurt efforts to control the virus, which has now infected 6 million people in the United States. Health officials see the benefit of the antigen option to mass test people quickly. There are already commitments to use them in college football games for the Big Ten Conference from next month, and in a government program at nursing homes to screen residents and staff.