The US Has Extra Covid-19 Testing Than Most. So Why is it Falling so Brief?


America may need extra COVID-19 testing capability than some other nation. So why have we seen laboratories overwhelmed and lots of sufferers once more ready every week or extra for outcomes? On the coronary heart of the disaster is […]

America may need extra COVID-19 testing capability than some other nation. So why have we seen laboratories overwhelmed and lots of sufferers once more ready every week or extra for outcomes?

On the coronary heart of the disaster is a reliance by private and non-private labs on automated testing gear that locks them in to utilizing proprietary chemical kits and different instruments made by a handful of producers.

The end result: as an infection charges spike nationwide, many labs aren’t working wherever close to capability due to supply-chain bottlenecks, in keeping with Reuters interviews with 16 hospital, state, business and tutorial labs and an evaluation of state and metropolis procurement plans.

A couple of corporations – Cepheid, Hologic Inc, Roche and Abbott Laboratories– dominate this market. Their machines run on chemical kits and disposable plastic elements like pattern plates and pipettes that solely they promote, very like branded printer cartridges.

“The distributors are in an not possible scenario proper now the place they cannot say sure to everybody,” stated Geoffrey Baird, who runs the medical laboratory on the College of Washington.

U.S. labs now run about 800,000 diagnostic checks day by day, in keeping with the COVID Monitoring Challenge. However america wants 6-10 million checks per day, by varied estimates.

Congress has earmarked $11 billion to help this drive, and in Might, states filed plans with the federal government describing the gear and provides they might purchase.

However taken collectively, the plans present that public well being officers are usually not addressing the core supply-chain drawback, in keeping with the Reuters evaluation.

Many states deliberate to purchase extra of those automated machines from simply two producers, although the identical gear was already working beneath capability or idled in different states due to shortages of chemical substances or elements.

Different international locations, together with China and Canada, haven’t been hamstrung to the identical extent by provide shortages. Their use of much less automated testing supplied extra flexibility in sourcing such supplies.


Early within the pandemic, testing appeared comparable globally. Lab staff would extract genetic materials utilizing one instrument, after which transfer to a second machine to determine it. However such multi-step checks are labor-intensive and require technical experience.

Many US labs now depend on the extremely automated – or “sample-to-answer” – analyzers. However some consultants say this has proved insufficient due to a scarcity of standardized chemical substances and elements.

Gary Procop, who helps lead the Cleveland Clinic’s labs, stated the federal government may have used the Protection Manufacturing Act (DPA) to scale up multi-step checks, utilizing present directions from the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention.

“That makes use of actually standardized reagents,” Procop stated of the CDC check. “You can make that in a generic kind, if you’ll, and take the businesses out of it. After which you possibly can really mass-produce that sort of a check. However no one’s executed that.”

The U.S. Division of Well being and Human Providers advised Reuters the federal government had used the DPA to purchase some testing provides, however reagents used to run the CDC check are already accessible, so shopping for extra wouldn’t assist.

“On account of working straight with corporations to enhance their provide chain, get rid of obstacles, and investing by way of the DPA, we do anticipate provides of every of those platforms to extend within the fall,” spokeswoman Mia Heck stated in an announcement.

Well being consultants additionally warning there is no such thing as a single, easy answer to testing in a once-in-a-century pandemic that has contaminated greater than 16 million folks and killed greater than 640,000 worldwide.

In China, combining sufferers’ samples to avoid wasting provides made it attainable to check thousands and thousands of Beijing residents in June, beating again a resurgent outbreak. However consultants warn this technique can improve false unfavorable outcomes and be ineffective when illness is prevalent.

Canada has constructed up a home provide chain for chemical substances in multi-step checks, which means most sufferers could be recognized inside just a few days. But this regime is extra viable in a rustic with a fraction of the U.S. inhabitants.

“If you’re requested to course of greater than 1,000 samples a day – or greater than 4,000 as we at the moment are doing – it’s important to do a few of it on sample-to-answer platforms,” stated Alex Greninger, assistant director of College of Washington Drugs Medical Virology Laboratories.


By late April, Hologic, Cepheid, Roche and Abbott had been all promoting COVID-19 checks for his or her automated machines. Lab staff may load samples into the units, typically a whole bunch at a time, and stroll away.

These corporations turned important to the U.S. response. A Might survey from the Affiliation for Molecular Pathology (AMP) confirmed 47% of labs listed certainly one of them as its major COVID-19 testing system.

For states looking for to spice up testing capability, essentially the most sought-after machine has been Hologic’s Panther, which may course of as much as 1,000 checks in 24 hours, state filings present.

“The demand has been wonderful. We really feel very pleased with the position we’re taking part in,” Hologic CEO Stephen MacMillan advised an investor convention in June.

The corporate “had nearly each governor within the U.S. simply discuss to us straight over the previous few weeks, months, pleading their case for why they want extra,” he stated.

Twenty 9 states and cities deliberate to purchase a complete of a minimum of 51 Panthers, that are additionally used to check for HIV and different infections. Officers in Washington and North Carolina advised Reuters they had been nonetheless ready on supply.

Nonetheless Hologic just isn’t making sufficient COVID-19 kits to run on its present machines – about 1,100 throughout the nation – at capability. At full tilt, the machines may course of about 33 million checks monthly, however the firm makes roughly 4.eight million.

Hologic stated its manufacturing groups had been working across the clock whereas it hires extra folks and invests in new gear to extend manufacturing. The corporate stated it had already made “an enormous contribution” to testing, making it attainable for labs to generate extra outcomes with much less hands-on time.

The runner-up in states’ plans was Cepheid, with 45 of its GeneXpert machines on wish-lists. The corporate, which has about 25,000 machines worldwide, is making about 2 million checks monthly – sufficient to run two or three checks globally per machine every day.

Cepheid is specializing in clients that want fast outcomes, like hospitals, stated Chief Medical Officer David Persing. It’s engaged on thousands and thousands of recent cartridges however doesn’t anticipate a dramatic provide increase till mid-2021.


This month, Arkansas congressional leaders warned in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence that their state’s hospitals had been testing at 10% of capability. There are shortages of key provides from Roche, Abbott, Cepheid and Hologic, stated the state’s medical director of infectious illnesses Naveen Patil.

Roche advised Reuters its automated gear reduces errors, frees up employees and returns outcomes extra shortly. The corporate stated it’s growing manufacturing capability, and is “very intentional” about the place it sends checks and devices.

Abbott stated it’s increasing capability, and intently managing provide to make sure checks get the place they’re wanted.

Some labs have managed shortages by shopping for devices from completely different distributors, to allow them to benefit from whichever vendor’s provides can be found. However that additionally means they run beneath capability, in keeping with the Reuters interviews. The AMP survey discovered 57% of labs had been working checks on a minimum of three corporations’ machines.

“It is just about like we went to the buffet and obtained certainly one of every part,” stated College of Washington’s Baird, whose lab runs a lot of the state’s checks.

However as circumstances spiked in additional than 30 states this month, some labs turned overwhelmed as they struggled to get chemical substances and disposable elements.

Within the months forward, separate antigen checks and gene-sequencing machines may increase capability. The Nationwide Institutes of Well being is working with corporations to succeed in a minimum of 6 million checks per day by December.

Some labs are additionally turning to suppliers of multi-step checks.

New Jersey’s RUCDR Infinite Biologics can run 50,000 samples a day in two steps. Arizona’s Sonora Quest not too long ago introduced a plan to run as much as 60,000 checks a day utilizing comparable gear.

Gary Kobinger, a Canadian researcher greatest identified for his work on Ebola, argues that every one diagnostics must be executed on open platforms.

“At one level there might be a brand new pathogen, and the corporate that makes the cassette that’s controlling every part just isn’t going to have the ability to provide you,” he stated.

“And that is the place we at the moment are, proper?”

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