- There’s a shortage of at-home COVID-19 test kits while the demand for them is skyrocketing.
- Experts say supply chain issues created the backlog.
- Federal officials are approving test kits from more manufacturers, so it’s expected that drugstores and other outlets will have more test kits as early as next week.
- Federal agencies are also planning to mail out more test kits to people who want them.
- There are a number of online sites that are selling test kits, although deliveries are sometimes delayed.
As the holiday season approached and the COVID-19 Omicron variant surged across the United States, many Americans found that the rapid at-home tests they sought to more safely gather with friends and family were in short supply.
Those shortages have continued, with some medical systems reporting a six-fold increase in testing demand compared to a month ago.
“Many of the PCR testing sites have some government or state underwriting and are used for regular employee testing, travel, and event access,” Donna A. Patterson, PhD, a chair in the department of history, political science, and philosophy, as well as director of Africana studies at Delaware State University, told Healthline.
“The U.S. has not rolled out the availability of rapid tests in a similar fashion,” Patterson said. “While some businesses provide rapid test availability for employees, onsite or by delivery, most of the tests are purchased by citizens seeking to know their COVID-19 status.”
In early December, the Biden administration announced it would ramp up access to testing by offering insurance reimbursement to the 150 million Americans with health insurance.
But that plan also left uninsured Americans in the lurch.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki triggered a wave of outrage after she mocked a reporter for suggesting the government could provide rapid tests for free, as governments in the United Kingdom and elsewhere do.
Two weeks later, the White House announced a plan to purchase and distribute 500 million free tests to Americans who wanted them.
While neither of these plans were implemented in time for the holiday surge, demand remains high — as does the importance of testing for public health.
“Rapid [testing] is absolutely critical in managing the pandemic,” said Debkishore Mitra, PhD, co-founder and CTO of
“Additionally, more distributed testing, such as at-home testing, is equally important to minimize infrastructural bottlenecks of centralized testing,” Mitra told Healthline.
One reason rapid tests are still hard to come by is that much of the world is struggling with a supply chain crunch.
“The manufacturing process is different for each manufacturer and often proprietary,” said Samantha Betancourt, the vice president of global supply chain operations, analytics, and external operations at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics in New Jersey.
“However, the distribution obstacles are the same that we are seeing throughout the global supply chain,” she told Healthline. “There is an increased demand, a shortage of labor, and raw materials and transportation demand is exceeding the bandwidth of transportation providers.”
But another reason is simply poor or short-sighted planning.
For instance, Abbott Pharmaceuticals, maker of the BINAXNow at-home COVID rapid tests, reportedly instructed workers to destroy equipment and laid off staff as sales decreased, the New York Times reported in August.
Meanwhile, in October, the Biden administration reportedly rejected a plan presented by COVID-19 testing experts to significantly ramp up testing in order to prevent a holiday surge of COVID-19.
More rapid tests should be available in the coming weeks as additional federal funding goes into effect and the FDA
“Drugstores are restocking, and starting next week, we’ll be able to have at-home tests reimbursed by commercial insurance,” said Jeff Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 task force coordinator, at a Jan. 5 press conference.
He said that free tests through a government website would also be available in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, while many places remain sold out of COVID-19 tests, here are a few websites that had them in stock at the time of publishing:
Note: The author of this piece was only able to verify the reliability of one website. He received test kits ordered through VerticalPPE within the stated delivery window, without issue.