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Although the COVID-19 vaccine gets all the headlines, the world will always need rapid tests

April 30, 2021
Health IT

Why the need for COVID-19 testing persists
As developed countries like the U.S. accelerate vaccination rollout, cases, hospitalizations and death rates have thankfully begun to decline, offering some hope for a glimpse of life beyond COVID-19. However, that progress has collectively led us to neglect testing, which acts as a critical public-health component to slow the virus’ spread.

Indeed, “a regimen of regular testing works as a sort of COVID-19 filter, by identifying, isolating, and thus filtering out currently infected persons, including those who are asymptomatic,” according to a New England Journal of Medicine editorial by researchers from Harvard University and the University of Colorado.

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Not only does testing warn individuals of when they are infected and need to self-isolate, but it plays an essential role in enabling officials to monitor and track the disease from a public health perspective. Given the recent proliferation of COVID-19 variants, and the fact that researchers are still unclear over whether vaccinated individuals can continue to spread the virus, the need for rapid testing has become even more acute.

Four key market needs for COVID-19 tests
Perform a web search on “COVID-19 at-home test” and no shortage of results will appear, likely confusing many consumers. However, with many of these offerings, the concept of “at-home test” is a misnomer; “at-home sampling” is more accurate. Most of the COVID-19 tests currently on the market require at-home users to mail their samples to a lab for analysis, a process that usually takes several days.

There are two categories of diagnostic tests for COVID-19: molecular, like polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, and antigen tests. From the end-user’s perspective, both categories of COVID-19 diagnostic tests require a nasal or throat swab, but they differ in what they attempt to detect. Molecular tests look for genetic material that comes only from the virus, while antigen tests identify protein fragments that are indicative of, but not unique to, the virus. A molecular test is usually the best option, because it will have fewer false negative results than other diagnostic tests, according to Harvard Health.

Following are four critical market needs that must be solved by any COVID-19 testing approach:

Low cost per test: To ensure widespread adoption and availability, at-home COVID-19 tests should cost no more than a latte.

Accessible, easy-to-use and readily available: Users should be able to take their own samples, then process those samples at home via a portable analysis device that connects to a smartphone app.

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