Amid the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the US, FDA has halted the Bill Gates-backed coronavirus testing program.
Coronavirus has racked the nations around the globe and every day is a new battle for all of us. Along with many countless challenges that this pandemic has posed, one of the most pressing problems has been the COVID-19 testing.
The testing programs and the following wait for the results had become more and more exasperating for the people in the US. So now, at-home coronavirus testing has become the new coping mechanism for the country to deal with the testing at home itself.
A similar at-home coronavirus testing program has been helping people test themselves. But for some reason, the FDA has halted this Bill Gates-backed coronavirus testing program.
So let’s know all about this program and why the FDA had to shut it down.
SCAN- backed by Gates
The Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network(SCAN) is a home-based coronavirus testing program funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
It involves a number of different institutions that include the University of Washington Medicine, Seattle Flu Study and Seattle and King County with Public Health.
As per Bill Gates, SCAN is a “disease surveillance program” with a goal to provide Public Health with a clearer picture of the way COVID-19 is spreading through the community.
Gates wrote in his blog, “As SCAN gathers more test results in the weeks ahead, researchers expect the new data to provide a better sense of the number of infections and serve as one source to help answer other questions, like when physical distancing measures can be relaxed.”
SCAN tests people regardless of the symptoms’ presence, from different regions to gain an understanding of what’s happening around them. This can even help in determining whether social distancing is working well in that area or not.
Its tests collect data on different areas- gender, age, race and ZIP code. This will provide a complete picture of who could be more at risk of spreading and contracting the disease.
Now let’s dive in deeper and know how exactly SCAN works.
SCAN- method of coronavirus testing
SCAN can’t and doesn’t test every single individual signing up for their program. Rather, it uses data modelling and inventive research methods for the better prediction of infected but unrecognized patients.
Although the SCAN can not send a testing kit to every individual who signs up, everyone nevertheless plays a significant role. Everyone signing up on the website of SCAN answers a few questions, starting with their ZIP codes.
SCAN then sends test kits to the homes of the people whenever possible. It focuses on people of ceratin areas to send these test kits to get a better perspective of the demographic trend in the spread of the disease.
After receiving the test kits, a person merely has to follow through the instructions enclosed within the test kit and then return the swab to the SCAN. If found infected, team member of SCAN working with the Public Health will contact the person.
Jeff Duchin, MD, Health Officer for Public Health- Seattle and King county talked about SCAN and said, “By testing a broad sample of people in different communities, we’ll have a more detailed understanding of where the virus exists and who is being affected.”
He further elaborated on its importance, “This is important information that can help us learn about the true severity of infection, whether the community measures taken to reduce its spread are working or need to be adjusted, and when, eventually, the number of COVID-19 cases are finally in decline.”
Before the FDA ordered the shutting down, SCAN was testing about 300 people per day. That’s a significant number.
Gates-backed coronavirus testing program halted
Everything looks good so far, right? Then what exactly happened that led the US Food and Drug Administration to stop this program from functioning anymore?
Let’s find out.
It was on May 14 when SCAN’S website posted an update that declared it has paused testing the home-based and self-collected samples for COVID-19 diagnosis.
SCAN further explained the reason for this hiatus. It said that the Washington State Department of Health has authorized SCAN’s test but FDA has asked for a separate federal Emergency Use Authorization(EUA) for self-collected tests.
“The FDA has not raised any concerns regarding the safety and accuracy of SCAN’s tests, But we have been asked to pause testing until we receive that additional authorization.”
As per The New York Times, the FDA told SCAN in a memo, “Please discontinue patient testing and return of diagnostic results to patients until proper authorization is obtained.”
At-home testing in the US
Although SCAN has been temporarily halted, other authorized home-based coronavirus testings are still going on. SCAN was different and very innovative in some regards, no doubt, and it did more than merely testing.
The question is not if SCAN will be back or not. The real question how soon?
FDA oversees all the COVID-19 testing in the US, but FDA approval for tests usually takes a really long time. The EUA is supposed to speed up the process of authorizing new tests across the country. Even then, we can only wait and see how fast it can speed up the process.
At the moment, the United States can’t afford to lose much time. And perhaps that’s the reason why it gave its nod to the home-based testing in the first place.
Let’s hope that the US and other countries around the globe can conduct enough tests to curb the pandemic. At the time, let’s just stay home and stay safe.
Until next time!