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‘We didn’t reject it:’ Biden denies spurning plan to send out over 700 million rapid COVID-19 tests ahead of holidays

President Joe Biden speaks about the Omicron variant at the White House on December 21, 2021.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

  • Vanity Fair had reported Biden rejected a plan to produce hundreds of millions of rapid COVID-19 tests.
  • “We didn’t reject it,” the president told reporters on Monday, without offering further elaboration.
  • His administration is struggling to roll out enough rapid tests as the Omicron variant spikes demand.

President Joe Biden denied on Monday that his administration had rejected a proposal to ramp up rapid-testing ahead of an anticipated holiday season surge in COVID-19 cases.

Reporters asked the president about a recent Vanity Fair report that said the White House rejected a plan experts presented in late October recommending the US produce an estimated 732 million tests per month for a “Testing Surge to Prevent Holiday COVID Surge.”

“Why did your administration reject the holiday testing surge in October?” asked a reporter, referencing the story. “Does the buck stop with you there?”

Biden, who was leaving the White House en route to Rehoboth Beach in his home state of Delaware, denied the report but didn’t elaborate further.

“We didn’t reject it,” he said. 

According to Vanity Fair, a group of COVID-19 testing experts from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Rockefeller Foundation, the COVID Collaborative, and other organizations joined a Zoom call in late October with Biden administration officials. The experts presented a 10-page plan that included a provision for “Every American Household to Receive Free Rapid Tests for the Holidays/New Year.”

But three days later, the White House decided not to adopt the plan and chose instead to encourage the FDA to expedite the regulatory approval process for rapid at-home tests, the magazine reported.

“We did not have capacity to manufacture over-the-counter tests at that scale,” an anonymous administration official told Vanity Fair.

Once the full weight of the Omicron surge became apparent, Biden announced that his administration would purchase 500 million rapid COVID-19 tests to be made available via a website starting in mid-January.

Biden told ABC’s David Muir just last week that he wished he’d ordered more tests two months ago, when the proposal was reportedly made.

—Alex Thompson (@AlexThomp) December 22, 2021

Biden did acknowledge on Monday that the current supply of rapid COVID-19 tests wasn’t sufficient.

“It’s not enough. It’s clearly not enough,” he said. “If we had known, we’d have gone harder and quicker if we could have.”

On Sunday, the US reported more than 948,000 new coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins’ tracker.

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