About half of US states worry they will run out of COVID-19 tests, and even more fear they won’t have the supplies to distribute a vaccine, according to a government report

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Medical workers in Florida testing a person for the coronavirus. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
  • Nine months into the pandemic, some US states were still short of personal protective equipment, COVID-19 tests, and other vital medical supplies, the Government Accountability Office said in a report Monday.
  • About half of the 47 states and territories that responded to the watchdog’s survey in mid-October said they were short of rapid COVID-19 testing kits. About the same number said they expected to have shortages over the next two months.
  • Not being able to carry out enough tests means the disease could spread further, the GAO said.
  • More than three-quarters of states expressed concerns about having supplies to distribute and administer a COVID-19 vaccine.
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About half of US states are worried they will run short of COVID-19 tests, a government watchdog said in a report on Monday about the US’s pandemic response.

Some of the 47 states and US territories that responded to a survey by the Government Accountability Office in mid-October said they were still short of personal protective equipment nine months into the pandemic. More than three-quarters said they were concerned about having enough supplies to distribute and administer a COVID-19 vaccine.

The GAO urged the Department of Health and Human Services to take urgent action and warned that not carrying out enough tests could mean the virus spreads further.

About half of the states surveyed by the GAO (24) said they were experiencing shortages of rapid testing kits. Twenty-one said they didn’t have enough reagents — chemicals added to produce test results — and several said they were experiencing shortages of other testing equipment.

Many of the states surveyed said they expected these problems to persist. Twenty-two said they expected rapid-test shortages in the 60 days following the survey, and 20 said they expected shortages of reagents.

“Testing supply shortages have contributed to delays in turnaround times for testing results, which can in turn exacerbate outbreaks by allowing COVID-19 to spread undetected,” the GAO said.

The watchdog also criticised the Centres for Disease Prevention and Control’s changing guidelines on testing “with little scientific explanation of the rationale behind the changes,” saying it was “raising the risk of confusion and eroding trust in important federal partners.”

PPE shortages

Most of the states that responded to the GAO’s survey said they had enough PPE, but some reported supply problems with things like nitrile gloves and boot covers.

For example, when asked about their ability to fulfil future requests for nitrile gloves, 17 states said they were greatly or completely confident, while 15 states said they were only slightly or not at all confident.

More than half of the respondents said they had obtained PPE supplies from either the commercial market or the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the past 30 days, suggesting they didn’t have enough supplies on hand, the GAO said.

Almost three-quarters of the states said they had obtained PPE from FEMA at some point during the pandemic, “which indicates challenges in procuring these supplies from the commercial market, as states would only request supplies from FEMA when they were unable to meet their needs through the commercial market,” the GAO said.

Vaccine concerns

Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca last month announced milestones in the race for a coronavirus vaccine. Pfizer’s shot could be authorised for emergency use in the US as early as next week.

But more than three-quarters (38) of the states that responded to the GAO’s survey expressed concerns about having enough supplies to distribute and administer a COVID-19 vaccine.

The GAO said that about one-third of the 47 respondents said they were greatly or completely concerned.

Officials from six states cited concerns about the federal government’s ability to supply needles, and three of those states also said this had affected their flu-vaccination efforts.

It isn’t just a lack of needles that officials are worried about.


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DHL executives detail how the shipping giant will mobilize to help deliver 10 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses

Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept at negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit to maintain its efficacy. Business Insider reported last month that hospitals around the US were panic-buying hyper-cold freezers in anticipation of the vaccine.

Experts have told Business Insider they’re also worried about a global shortage of glass vials to store the vaccines in.

A ‘highly successful’ supply-chain response

In response to the report, the Department of Health and Human Services told the GAO that, in cooperation with its federal partners, it had launched “the most comprehensive supply management effort undertaken by our nation since World War II.”

It added that the administration had been “highly successful” in identifying and filling supply gaps across the US.

The department said it couldn’t evaluate the claims in the GAO’s report because the GAO refused to identify the states that reported or said they expected shortages.