President Joe Biden.
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- The Biden admin wanted to expand access to COVID-19 tests earlier this year, The Washington Post reported.
- But it pivoted to vaccinations, thinking tests were less important, per the report.
- Now the White House is scrambling to get tests amid the spread of the Omicron variant.
President Joe Biden’s administration abandoned plans to roll out mass COVID-19 testing early this year, thinking vaccinations were the best way to end the pandemic, The Washington Post reported.
The Biden administration is currently trying to ramp up testing across the US in light of the highly infectious Omicron variant, which has affected unvaccinated people as well as those who had been vaccinated or received their booster shots.
However, in the early months of the Biden presidency, the administration had made COVID-19 testing a priority as they thought it was the best way to stop the spread of the virus, current and former US officials told The Post.
Officials were particularly keen on widespread PCR testing as there was greater doubt over the accurate of rapid antigen tests at the time, the sources told The Post.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-led report released on January 1 found that rapid antigen tests were substantially less accurate than PCR tests.
However, the Biden administration’s focus on testing was suddenly replaced by a focus on vaccines after modeling at the time showed they were the best way to drive down infections, The Post said.
“They were like, ‘Great. We can vaccine our way out of this thing, so we don’t need so many tests,'” a former transition official told The Post.
The Post also reported, citing its sources, that a group of US health officials told the White House this spring that they should buy millions of rapid COVID-19 testing kits, predicting a rise in price and demand. However, the White House didn’t act on their recommendation, The Post reported.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Biden said on Tuesday that his administration would provide Americans with 500 million free COVID-19 tests from January.
However, The New York Times reported that the White House is yet to sign any contracts for them.
The US is also experiencing a shortage of COVID-19 tests and, during a media appearance Wednesday, Biden said: “I wish I had thought about ordering half a billion [tests] two months ago.”
When the Biden administration pivoted from tests to vaccines in early 2021, officials estimated that the pandemic would fade out if 75% of Americans got vaccinated, The Post said.
As of Thursday, 61.7% of Americans are fully vaccinated, according to CDC data.
Though vaccines are considered one of the best form of protection against the coronavirus, many fully vaccinated people have reported breakthrough cases, though early data suggests that vaccines still ward off severe disease.
A CDC chart published Monday showed that the Omicron variant accounted for 73% of new US cases reported in the week ending December 18.
Biden has repeatedly urged Americans to get vaccinated. On Tuesday, he said it was a “patriotic duty” and “an obligation to your country.”
“Almost everyone who has died from COVID-19 in the past many months has been unvaccinated,” he said.