WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The Biden administration announced a US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion) purchase of rapid at-home Covid-19 tests, an additional investment geared at expanding the availability of such products in the coming months.
Along with the authorisation of another at-home test product on Monday (Oct 4), the US$1 billion investment and earlier outlays should put the country on track to quadruple rapid testing by December, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday.
He declined to say which companies would receive orders.
The latest moves signal an increasing emphasis on testing as the virus continues to make a comeback in the US and vaccination rates falter.
Americans are also increasingly turning to rapid tests for everything from schools to events, and supplies are becoming scarce.
The new supplies will add to a US$2 billion investment in rapid testing announced by the White House last month that included purchases from Abbott Laboratories and Celltrion Inc and use of the Defence Production Act to build out manufacturing.
Since then, the US Food and Drug Administration also has cleared a rapid at-home test from closely held Acon Laboratories Inc that it said should double rapid home-testing capacity in the weeks ahead.
The company should be able to make more than 100 million tests a month by the end of this year, and 200 million a month by February, the regulator has said.
The Acon test is likely to sell for less than US$10 a test, Mr Zients said on Wednesday. Other makers of rapid at-home tests include Abbott, Quidel Corp, Becton Dickinson and Co, Access Bio Inc and OraSure Technologies Inc.
Dr Michael Mina, a Harvard epidemiologist who has been a prominent advocate for rapid testing, called the latest move a "good step in the right direction" but said more tests are still needed and that even a US$10 price tag is too expensive.
"We need to see these tests as the critical public health tools they are and authorise many more of them for their public health benefits," Dr Mina said.
Expanding use of at-home testing has also encountered troubles lately.
Ellume Ltd, a startup that received an early clearance of its home product and which the Biden administration invested in earlier this year to expand manufacturing, recently announced a recall of tests that it said were at risk of producing false positives.
About 427,000 tests were affected, of which around 195,000 hadn't been used and are eligible for the recall, a spokesperson said.
Free testing will also be offered at an additional 10,000 US pharmacies, bringing the total to 20,000 pharmacies and 30,000 free testing sites overall, Mr Zients said.