Rapid tests and reagents -- the medical devices used to process COVID-19 tests -- are in short supply as the U.S. heads deeper into the winter months, according to a survey of 47 states and territories conducted by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office in their latest report on the CARES Act. The report also looks ahead to vaccine distribution and administration concerns.
"Most states reported no shortages of swabs or transport media, but one-third to one-half of the 47 states reported shortages in the other three types of testing supplies: reagents (21 states), testing instruments (16 states), and rapid point-of-care tests (24 states)," according to the report.
Half the states and territories that responded said they expected further shortages in rapid tests over the next two months and nearly half said they expected to see a shortage in reagents over the same period. The survey was conducted in October.
"When asked about testing supply availability at testing sites and laboratories for the 60 days following the survey, half the states (22) expected there would be shortages in rapid point-of-care tests, and 20 states expected there would be shortages in reagents," according to the GAO report.
The survey also found that more than half of the states said they didn't expect shortages of swabs or transport media -- two other key components for testing.
However, the GAO report is headlined with a call to action -- "COVID-19: Urgent Actions Needed to Better Ensure an Effective Federal Response" -- and makes 11 recommendations, plus suggestions for congressional review and executive actions.
The report also looks ahead to vaccine preparation across the country, finding that dozens of states feel unprepared to dole out mass quantities in multiple rounds.
In open-ended responses, senior officials from six states said they were specifically concerned about needles, citing reports of shortages.
Three of those states also reported challenges maintaining supplies of needles for the flu vaccine, the report said.
This aligns with reporting that at least a dozen states will likely need additional funding or are awaiting additional funding, while other states suggested they are still deciding whether they will need additional funding.
In response to these findings, the GAO said the Department of Health and Human Services repeated its disagreement from the last report, saying that they have made efforts to meet the needs of states and that there aren't many shortages, despite what's in the survey.
"Our report acknowledges those efforts, but we continue to maintain that our recommendations are warranted," the GAO said.
HHS also asked for the names of states with shortages, but the GAO maintained that the point of the report is not for individual follow-up and instead is to "help inform the department's supply efforts moving forward by providing a snapshot of states' needs and concerns."