Tens of millions at-home coronavirus tests will be available by the end of the summer, the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team said during a press briefing on Friday.
“At-home tests are one of the key steps to getting back to normal life,” said Andy Slavitt, a senior advisor to the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team.
Tim Manning, the team’s national supply chain coordinator, said the U.S. is “well behind where we need to be on testing,” especially with rapid at-home tests that he called critical to helping Americans return to their everyday lives, to work and to school.
Manning sketched out the federal government’s plans to leverage the Defense Production Act (DPA) to expand at-home test access by working with six suppliers “to rapidly surge domestic testing capability.”
These actions build on the White House’s purchase of 8.5 million at-home rapid coronavirus tests, through a $231.8-million contract with the Australian firm Ellume, announced on Monday. The self-contained Ellume antigen test is authorized for over-the-counter sale; it uses nasal self-swabs and consumers can read their own results in a few minutes.
At Friday’s briefing, Manning said by using the DPA and working with these six additional suppliers the federal government can further expand access to at-home testing kits by building new factories and production lines in the U.S. Having these factories would not only ramp up production but also minimize the risk of supply chain disruptions abroad.
In taking these actions, the federal government will make 61 million point-of-care or at-home tests available to Americans by the end of this summer, Manning said.
The Ellume contract also includes plans for a new U.S. manufacturing plant that, once built, could boost production to 19 million tests per month, according to The Washington Post. But in the meantime, the company anticipates shipping only about 100,000 tests to the U.S. each month until July.
Goosing vaccine, glove production, too
In addition to ramping up testing production, the federal government will also try to speed up production of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by leveraging a DPA authority known as “priority rating.”
When the federal government places a priority rating on a contract, the producer is entitled to “first access” to any products and ingredients they need, ahead of everyone else.
Pfizer’s new priority rating will include “filling pumps and tangential flow filtration skid units,” which Manning noted are all critical to manufacturing COVID vaccines.
“It’s actions like these that will allow Pfizer to ramp up production and hit their targets of delivering hundreds of millions of doses over the coming months,” Manning said.
Lastly, the response team plans to use the DPA to increase the supply of personal protective equipment, in particular surgical gloves.
“Right now, we just don’t have enough gloves,” Manning said.
The U.S. is almost 100% reliant on foreign producers for surgical gloves; the world’s largest maker, based in Malaysia, has faced a series of problems (including accusations that it used slave labor) that kept its latex products out of the U.S. for long periods in 2020.
Manning said the government will support building new domestic factories this year to produce raw materials as well finished gloves.
“And by the end of the year,” Manning said, “we’ll produce more than a billion nitrile gloves a month right here in America.”