HOUSTON — Why is it harder to find a COVID test in the U.S. compared to European countries where they are cheap and readily available?
Rapid tests hard to find
These tests, also known as antigen tests, are the at-home testing kits that can tell you in a few minutes whether you have COVID or not. They aren’t as accurate as PCR tests, the one where they typically put a swab up your nose, but they still work well — especially if you have coronavirus symptoms. In some European countries, these tests are widely available and either low cost or free. That may be way Europe has fared better as a fourth wave of COVID hits the U.S. hard.
FDA approval is tough for these tests
The FDA has allowed some rapid tests to be sold in the U.S. But as anyone who has tried to find one on store shelves or order one from Amazon will tell you, they are hard to find. According to the New York Times, part of the problem is the FDA approval process. It uses the same process for rapid tests as it does for high tech medical devices.
Frequency trumps accuracy
Part of the problem is the FDA requires rapid tests to show they are nearly as sensitive as PCR tests. But public health experts say they don’t need to be. Since they are accurate at identifying people who are infectious, experts say it would be better to flood the market, bringing down price and increasing availability. They are calling for the Biden administration to reclassify rapid tests as a public health tool rather than a medical device.