In bad news for anyone who was hoping the pandemic would end soon, the Brandon administration apparently has reason to believe that the U.S. will need tens of millions of COVID-19 tests three years from now as the president recently signed a new contract related to test strip production.
The $137 million contract with a German pharmaceutical company will see a factory being built to produce COVID-19 test strip materials in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. And while this may sound like good news at a time when tests are in short supply throughout the nation, a Department of Defense press release announcing the new deal failed to mention that it will take three years to build the factory. Once it is running in 2024 or 2025, however, it will be able to produce another 85 million more tests per month.
This means that the deal will not do anything to alleviate the current supply problem; the administration has already been under fire for rejecting a deal in October that could have significantly raised the supply of these tests across the nation. Construction work is not expected to get underway until the second half of 2022.
For many, however, the most concerning aspect of this story is the fact that the administration expects we will continue to have a need for these tests well into the future.
A Department of Defense press release announcing the awarding of the contract in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services noted that it was funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. It is believed that the company, MilliporeSigma, will be converting an existing factory into one that is suitable for producing the test strip materials. The site will manufacture nitrocellulose membrane, which is a vital material used in making rapid Covid tests.
The timeline was only mentioned in a press release by MilliporeSigma, who stated that they had “been awarded a $136.7M USD contract award for the construction of a lateral flow membrane production facility over a three-year period at the company’s Sheboygan, Wisconsin site.”
A MilliporeSigma spokesperson said that the production of lateral flow membrane at the facility is critical for making rapid diagnostic tests that will help not only with detecting Covid but also “any future public health emergencies” – another thought that isn’t very comforting.
The spokesperson said: “Worldwide market demand for lateral flow membrane exceeds supply, and there is limited production capacity in the United States. The current lack of domestic supply of lateral flow membrane impacts the United States’ ability to respond fully to the COVID-19 pandemic and any future public health emergencies.”
At-home test shortages, long lines for testing throughout the US
Earlier in December, Brandon unveiled a plan for distributing 500 million at-home Covid tests as cases surged throughout the nation, but contracts for the order are not expected to be finished until some time this month, and the administration has yet to finalize how the kits will be distributed.
White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said: “We’ll set up a free and easy system, including a new website to get these tests out to Americans. We’re actively working to finalize that distribution mechanism, which includes a website where people will be able to order tests for free. And we’ll share more details in the weeks ahead — days and weeks ahead.”
Right now, Americans are experiencing hours-long waits to be tested for the virus in many areas as drugstores sell out of at-home testing kits, thanks largely to an increase in people seeking to get tested before celebrating the holidays with friends and family. Many retailers that still have stock are placing limits on the number of kits that can be purchased at once, and the FDA has granted emergency use authorization to new at-home tests to try to stem the problem. What few are pointing out, however, is the fact that Americans wouldn’t need to take so many tests in the first place if the vaccines were actually delivering on their promises and stopping people from getting infected with the virus.
Sources for this article include: