Learning From the Government’s COVID Testing Debacle

Angry Americans deserve to know why they aren’t getting the COVID-19 tests they paid for and were promised. As they wait in long lines to get tested or drive from pharmacy to pharmacy in desperate search of a scarce at-home test, they should use some of that time to ponder the wisdom of addressing other health care problems by giving the government even more control.

Make no mistake; the testing debacle is a government creation. It began in early 2020 when Food and Drug Administration officials rebuffed a request by Washington state researchers to use coronavirus tests they developed. The FDA insisted tests could be done using only Centers for Disease Control kits, which proved unreliable due to contamination. The screw-up cost America five precious weeks, during which time the virus spread unobserved and unchecked.

We have known about the need for rapid antigen testing since mid-2020. Rapid testing at home, work and school was viewed as a key to getting our lives back to normal and shortening the pandemic by breaking transmission chains and freeing up scarce medical resources.

But it was also clear from the pandemic’s early days that the FDA was not a fan of rapid antigen testing. The agency approved just one such test during all of 2020. And because the FDA required a doctor’s prescription to get an antigen test, people could not realistically access one unless they were showing symptoms. Just two other nonprescription at-home rapid antigen tests were approved by the FDA before the fourth quarter of 2021. And they were expensive, around $50 per test.

When the Biden administration came into office it promised to “aggressively speed up our COVID-19 response, especially on vaccines and testing.” Soon Congress passed and the president signed the $1.9 billion COVID-19 relief bill. That law and previous ones dedicated some $83 billion specifically for testing.

However, it is clear the administration, its rhetoric notwithstanding, chose to focus on vaccines while ignoring testing—an attitude best exemplified by White House press secretary Jen Psaki‘s sarcastic answer to a question about why we don’t have widespread at-home testing: “Should we just send one to every American?”

Read the full article in Newsweek.

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