As Canadians grapple with the highly permeable Omicron variant and a molecular testing regime that has collapsed, rapid antigen tests have become a much-needed lifeline – for those lucky enough to get their hands on one. are sufficient for
Canada is grappling with supply shortages, with dreadfully long lines reported in places where some provinces and territories have distributed tests to the general public.
So far, tests in most provinces have been set for schools, businesses and long-term care homes, leaving people without connections to these places.
Some of the rapid tests offered for sale in pharmacies were quickly snatched away by those eager to know their COVID status or to gather more safely with friends and family over the holidays. CBC News on Friday surveyed six pharmacies in the Ottawa and Toronto areas — none of which had home tests available.
Many Canadians are now staring with envy at the relative abundance of rapid tests being widely distributed in US experts here say the federal government needs to follow the example of the US and other countries such as Germany, Singapore and the United Kingdom. to ensure more equitable access to homes by sending tests directly to people.
While US President Joe Biden has acknowledged that his administration should have ordered many more tests than it initially did – “If I had known, we would have gone harder, faster,” he said recently. That was when the testing hiatus was strained – the US government pivoted quickly after the Omicron wave hit.
Washington this week launched a website that allows any American family to order up to four free trials by mail. Half a billion tests will be delivered door-to-door by the US Postal Service over the next seven to 12 days.
US to deliver 875 million home tests
In addition to half a billion tests being sent by mail, US retailers will have more than 375 million home rapid tests available for sale this month, according to data provided by the White House. The Biden administration has demanded that health insurers cover the cost of these tests.
The tests can be purchased in the US at pharmacies and big box stores such as Walmart – where customers can purchase two rapid antigen tests for just $17.98 US.
This means 875 million home tests are being made available to US homes this month alone. That’s roughly three tests for every person living in the US.
Millions more home COVID-19 tests have been distributed to thousands of community health centers and rural health clinics across the US for distribution to patients. In addition to at-home tests, there are now more than 12,000 free testing sites across the US ready to welcome patients for molecular PCR and rapid antigen testing.
In Canada, pandemic profiteers are offering tests for $80 or more on websites like Craigslist. Other online retailers, such as Canadian Shield PPE, have pushed promised delivery until next month.
The country’s largest province, Ontario, opened rapid-testing pop-up clinics over the holiday period before closing them as supplies ran low. Only one province – Nova Scotia – has been widely distributing rapid tests for months.
Dr. Dalia Hassan is a Kitchener, Ont.-based doctor who started COVID Test Finders, a grassroots social media-led initiative to connect Canadians with their limited supply of rapid tests.
‘Free the RAT’
Hassan said his small outfit has been overwhelmed with requests from people who are desperate to get tested at home as the number of COVID-19 case continues to skyrocket.
Hassan said she wants the federal government to start distributing tests directly to Canadians so her group can stand. She said distributing tests in “small pockets” such as schools and homes of senior citizens is not enough, leaving large parts of the population without access.
His petition calling on the government to “liberate the RAT” – an acronym for “Rapid Antigen Test” – has already garnered 75,000 signatures.
“We urge the federal government to supply testing to every household in Canada. We can do it in Canada, because we are so privileged to have a universal health care system,” she told CBC News.
“We need to be the global leader in the distribution of all public health equipment to Canadians,” said Hassan, adding that Canada Post, with its network of outlets in nearly every community in the country, is well equipped to do the job. Rural and remote communities would benefit from such an arrangement, as would those who do not have ready access to transport, he said.
“It’s frustrating for me and every Canadian that it’s so difficult to do rapid testing,” she said.
Hassan said an abundance of rapid testing would help fight the spread of the virus by breaking the chain of transmission, allowing COVID-19-infected people to leave isolation safely after a string of negative test results, and Pfizer The U.S. will expand access to the recently approved oral antiviral, paxlovid. Which requires a positive test result before use.
“Covid virus is deadly and very dangerous because it is invisible and rapid testing allows us to remove that invisibility cloak and detect it in 15 minutes. So less use of tests – that’s a problem,” she said. “They are a vital tool for protecting our community.”
Canadian officials have talked in the past about the value of rapid testing. Former federal health minister Patty Hajdu initially questioned the accuracy of these diagnostic tools and former procurement minister Anita Anand said antigen tests would not replace the “gold standard” laboratory-based PCR test.
But with the PCR testing system in crisis, the federal government has rushed to produce more and more test kits in recent weeks.
Most provinces and territories have curtailed PCR testing during the omicron wave – restricting access to high-risk groups such as health care workers and people in long-term care homes due to a lack of laboratory capacity and staffing.
Millions of tests destined for Canada, says health minister
Earlier this month, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the government was buying 140 million more tests from Health Canada-approved suppliers to bolster provincial supply chests running short.
“We’re going to make sure that every province and territory, and therefore every person in Canada, wherever that person may be, has a safe amount of rapid tests,” Duclos said on January 7.
And while Duclos promised 140 million tests “this month”, the provinces are not seeing that kind of volume roll – and the month is almost over.
Ontario was promised 54.3 million tests (it asked for 68.6 million); So far only six lakh have arrived. Alexandra Hilken, a spokeswoman for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, said another eight million have “scheduled delivery dates,” but the delivery status of the other tests is unknown.
A spokeswoman for Federal Procurement Minister Philomena Tasi said millions of tests have arrived from 14 different suppliers, with more expected in the coming days as Ottawa enters the “surge buying” phase.
James Fitz-Morris told CBC News it is difficult to say how many tests have been done so far because it “varies by the hour.”
“We have tests come every day. We have loaded the Antonovs with them,” he said, referring to the cargo planes used to carry some of these goods.
Send home tests via Canada Post: Doctor
In contrast to the vaccine procurement effort, the federal government is taking a more pragmatic approach to rapid test delivery. He said it is instructing major suppliers such as Abbott Laboratories to send these tests directly to provincial warehouses, where local officials can decide how to deploy them.
In a note to customers this week, Canadian Shield PPE — a Waterloo, Ont.-based company that supplies everything from air filtration systems to masks, shields and rapid tests — said aggressive government purchases have made it more accessible to its customers. Left with some tests. The company said it expects its delivery schedule to return to normal next month.
Fitz-Morris acknowledged that the federal effort to buy more tests has left some private retailers struggling to meet demand.
“We are mindful of the disruptions that are causing all of our purchases,” he said, adding that the large multinationals churning out these tests will deal with a large wholesale buyer such as the federal government.
As for the idea of shipping tests directly to homes via Canada Post, Fitz-Morris said Canada’s cold climate would complicate that effort.
“These things can freeze so put them in the mail over winter in Canada… they’ll be ruined,” he said.
It is also an issue in some states in North America, where temperatures are not much higher in winter than in Canada.
See: How to use the rapid test
An Abbott spokesperson said its popular BinaxNOW rapid test – one of the instruments being shipped by the US Postal Service this month – must be stored at temperatures between 2 C and 30 C.
“But if the test is stored outside the temperature range for a relatively short time – or a few hours, a day or two – it will be fine to use. And it is important that this test and its components are used in the room.” temperature,” the spokesperson said.
Hassan, the doctor behind COVID Test Finders, said cold weather conditions are already an issue for people receiving tests in the mail from private vendors.
If Canada Post is concerned about damage to the product, it may require a signature on the delivery or allow people to pick up the kit at a temperature-controlled post office.
“The government needs to step up. They are the ones who have all the resources and experts to distribute these rapid tests on a wide scale,” she said.