No-prescription, rapid COVID-19 home tests to be sold at CVS, Walgreens and Walmart beginning this week

Consumers will be able to buy rapid coronavirus tests without a prescription this week at three national chain retailers, an expansion that comes as the nation’s vaccination effort accelerates and states relax distancing requirements and mask mandates. 

Abbott Laboratories’ BinaxNOW coronavirus self-test kits will be shipped to CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens and Walmart locations and also will be sold online. The two-test kit, which last month received Food and Drug Administration emergency-use authorization for serial screening, will cost $23.99, the company said.

Another rapid test made by Australia-based Ellume will be sold at CVS stores in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for $38.99.  It also can be purchased online or at most CVS stores in other states by the end of May. 

These retail tests eliminate another barrier for people who want to test themselves without visiting a doctor or a telehealth provider. Both tests deliver results in about 15 minutes and don’t require a lab.

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The retail tests give consumers another option to get tested even as several states have converted mass testing sites to mass-vaccination sites. Testing nationwide began decreasing last winter as state and local public health departments steered limited resources to vaccination, said Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. 

“I still have worries, and the biggest lingering one is the potential cost of these tests,” said Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health associate professor and epidemiologist. 

Although the retail cost of the tests are on par with an insurance co-payments, Nuzzo said that’s too much for some disadvantaged consumers and communities. “This increases options for some, not all. So we have to keep working to make these tests more widely available,” she said.  

Both Abbott’s and Ellume’s tests are antigen tests that are considered less sensitive than lab-based PCR tests. But some studies suggest frequent antigen testing can accurately detect when a person is infectious and most likely to pass the COVID-19 virus to others.

The National Institutes of Health is supplying free rapid antigen tests for up to 160,000 residents of Pitt County, North Carolina, and Hamilton County, Tennessee, to evaluate communitywide interest. Residents in those communities will be able to access the Quidel home coronavirus test to test themselves three time each week over one month.

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized several more tests that allow people to collect nasal or saliva samples at home, but the samples must besent to a lab, which delays results for one to two days. 

Although Ellume last December became the first to get FDA emergency-use authorization for a no-prescription home test, the test has not been available for the public to purchase until now. In addition to supplying CVS locations, Ellume is marketing its test to large employers for return-to-work testing. The company also is working to fulfill a $230 million Department of Defense contract to build U.S. manufacturing and deliver 8.5 million tests.

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Abbott makes tens of millions of BinaxNOW tests each month and can expand capacity as demand requires. The company said the tests will be available at some CVS, Walgreens and Walmart locations this week and will be more broadly available over the next couple of weeks. Abbott plans to sell its test at other yet-to-be-named food and drug retailers within weeks. 

The FDA’s emergency authorization of the BinaxNOW coronavirus self-test allows home use for people with or without symptoms of COVID-19. The test is recommended for serial screening twice over three days with 36 hours between tests. The FDA also authorized the Quidel QuickVue coronavirus test, which delivers results in 10 minutes and also can be used without a prescription.   

Ken Alltucker is on Twitter at @kalltucker, or can be emailed at [email protected]

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