Biden Promised 500 Million Free Covid Tests. Then He Had to Find Them. – The New York Times

February 2, 2022 by No Comments

WASHINGTON — As the United States saw a nearly vertical increase in coronavirus cases in late December and a growing backlash over a shortage of rapid tests, President Biden promised that his administration would mail 500 million of them to Americans, free of charge.

There was a major hitch: The administration had yet to secure a single test kit for the program. The announcement sent officials hunting for stockpiles in warehouses around the country and uncommitted supply from large manufacturers.

Today the federal government is mailing tens of millions of rapid tests requested through a new Postal Service website that has sustained heavy traffic, with roughly 60 million households ordering the tests so far, according to the White House. The nation has a little more than twice that many households overall, suggesting enormous interest. Orders are limited to four per household for now.

Testing shortages have bedeviled the government since the beginning of the pandemic, and the resurgent supply of at-home tests, which deliver results in about 15 minutes, may be coming too late, given that the Omicron variant has already peaked in many regions. But the home deliveries, and broadened access to tests overall, represent a striking turnaround for an administration that had struggled to meet demand as it focused largely on vaccination.

It succeeded partly by turning to a cast of new players in a fast-expanding market, including one company that had never before made rapid tests. The administration also spent billions late last summer and in the fall purchasing tests directly from manufacturers, and sped up the process for reviewing and authorizing new tests.

Mr. Biden’s announcement days before Christmas came as tests had all but disappeared from retail shelves. The world’s largest testing manufacturers, which were already racing to meet skyrocketing demand from public and commercial buyers around the world, could not possibly provide that many tests for Americans on such short notice.

So the administration turned at first to several little-known companies that had supplies of federally authorized tests in warehouses, ready to ship. One of them, Medea Inc., in Pleasanton, Calif., had previously imported vodka bottles equipped with LED lights promoted by Shaquille O’Neal, drawing ridicule from a top Republican senator at a recent hearing.

By mid-January, the administration announced a series of much larger contracts with test manufacturers — and a plan to double the number of free tests that Mr. Biden planned to send Americans, bringing the total to a billion.

The contractors for the program have committed to providing more than 550 million tests, a White House spokesman said. They include Illinois-based Abbott Laboratories, which makes a popular at-home test called BinaxNOW and is receiving about $300 million; Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant that is distributing tests made by a Korean manufacturer and is being paid roughly the same amount; and the German company Siemens Healthineers. Roche and Siemens received federal clearance for their tests in December.

The administration made its biggest bet — with a $1.3 billion contract — on iHealth, a company based in Sunnyvale, Calif., that until late last year had never made a rapid test. Now it is a major supplier not just to the federal government, but also to states and cities. (The administration announced another order with the company on Friday, purchasing nearly 105 …….



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