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(WASHINGTON) – The Biden administration’s plan to send Americans 500 million home tests free of charge is a historic endeavor, but one that will take weeks or months to be fully executed, suggest recently published contracts and interviews with seven test manufacturers.

Contracts for the first two batches of tests were announced on Friday, one for 13.3 million kits from a health technology company and another for an undisclosed amount from a distribution company in Virginia that had extras on hand – all to hand out in an effort to alleviate the massive testing shortage in the US

And while a White House official told ABC News that the rest of the contracts to fulfill the $ 500 million pledge are expected to be awarded within the next two weeks, the tedious process of increasing test availability indicates that the plan will not deliver a quick fix.

The tests won’t be available for ordering on a government website until later this month, the official said, which means the average American is unlikely to receive free tests delivered in time for the peak of January omicron cases predicted by most models.

In the past week alone, the United States has reported more than 4.1 million new cases of COVID-19 – the highest number on record in a week.

And as cases skyrocket, testing has become increasingly vital for basic daily needs, including keeping children in school and employees in the workforce.

ABC News has contacted the 13 testing companies that have FDA clearance for home test kits. In interviews with seven, including five of the largest producers, the testing companies said they each produce a few million to 200 million tests per month.

But this total offer is for all customers, including pharmacies and grocery stores, not just the government.

Dr Michael Mina, chief scientist of eMed, a healthcare technology company that monitors rapid home tests, said he expects to see around 100-200 million tests distributed in the month following the test. website launch, an estimate he made based on conversations with test makers.

Testing is then expected to ramp up in February after two newly authorized rapid tests hit the market, which could bring tens of millions of tests to the government supply. But it will take testing companies more than a month to produce the half a billion tests the government has promised.

For experts focused on the near future, this is a concern.

“We need the tests yesterday, we need these tests available,” said Dr. Gerald Harmon, president of the American Medical Association, in an interview with ABC News. “And it’s going to be extremely important for us to overcome the spread and mitigate the spread of this virus.”

One of the major producers, iHealth, plans to distribute 200 million tests this month to buyers such as state governments and Amazon, the company’s chief operating officer, Jack Feng, told ABC News.

Feng said iHealth could increase its offer to work with the federal government, contributing 50 million over the next three weeks and 150 million more tests in February.

But Feng says manufacturing the tests isn’t the biggest issue for iHealth – it’s getting them into the country from China, where they’re made.

Abbott, one of the first major testing companies to produce a rapid home test, has invested in new factories and automation to further increase its offering, which is one of the largest sources of testing in the United States. United, said a spokesperson.

“We are operating 24/7 to perform 70 million tests per month with plans to exceed that,” said John Koval, spokesperson for Abbott.

The two most recent tests on the scene, from Roche and Siemens Healthineers, could provide an additional boost if companies are awarded government contracts. Both companies have said they will be able to deliver “tens of millions” of tests per month, once they become available.

But for Roche, initial deliveries won’t start arriving until “late January with capacity reaching full production in February and March,” a spokesperson said. Siemens told ABC News that it expects an initial supply of tests to be available in January as well.

Quidel, another major manufacturer, said it recently opened a manufacturing facility in California and shipped “millions of QuickVue tests.”

And two small companies, Becton Dickenson and Ellume, will bring in 20 million between them.

In total, testing companies alone are unlikely to hit 500 million in a month.

Rapid action requires manufacturing capabilities that the United States was unprepared for, in part because of the unpredictability of the virus but also because of the country’s vaccine-driven approach over the past year. , which lowered the demand for testing and left the country with fewer tests when it needed it most.

“It is important for the United States to maintain manufacturing capacity and test supply during times of low demand so that we can meet future variations and increases,” Koval said, along with Abbott.

“We’re on the right track now, but we can’t be complacent or think that testing won’t play a vital role in our ability to come together safely,” he said.

Unlike PCR tests, which are able to detect even small amounts of the virus and can stay positive for up to three months after infection, rapid tests are useful for a person to know if they are likely to be contagious to it. moment.

Increased access to rapid tests means Americans will be able to take advice from experts who say you should use rapid tests frequently, ideally a few times a week, to detect when someone is becoming contagious to others.

For its part, the White House did not commit to delivering the 500 million tests in January, but to simply start sending them then. Authorities have not provided a concrete timeline on when the full number of tests will be delivered to Americans.

It’s also unclear how many tests would be distributed to each American, although the White House has said people will request them through a website that will be launched when enough tests have been acquired.

But the administration remains confident in the plan, saying it is making significant progress and will perform the additional 500 million tests without tapping into drugstore supplies.

“We expect to have all 500 million [tests] contracted over the next two weeks, and Americans will be able to start ordering these tests online later this month, ”a White House official told ABC News.

“We are ensuring that contracted tests arrive as quickly as they are manufactured by companies and then immediately available to the American people,” the official said.

The official said the first tests of the initial contracts awarded will be delivered to the government next week and then distributed to Americans once the website is launched.

“Securing half a billion tests will require agreements with several manufacturers and distributors, and the Biden administration continues to be an active partner in helping to accelerate the production and distribution of home tests in general, including investing billions and using the Defense Production Law. Said the official.

A distribution plan is also in the final stages between the White House and US Post, according to a source who learned of the plan last week.

In the meantime, Americans can buy tests where they can find them, although the supply is spotty in many parts of the country. From next week, those tests will be reimbursable by Medicare, the White House said last week.

“Obviously, this is unprecedented action, to have half a billion tests purchased by the US government and distributed for free,” the White House COVID-19 coordinator told reporters on Tuesday, Jeff Zients. “And we will continue to do more and more to increase access to testing.”

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