Public-private partnerships essential to accelerating COVID-19 test kit manufacturing

Testing manufacturers are not capable of meeting demand right now.
Testing manufacturers are not capable of meeting demand right now. Photo credit Getty Images

COVID-19 test kits have been in short supply recently, with pharmacy shelves bare and families scrambling to get their hands on some as the new school started.

While the shortage has been a major inconvenience for many, the cause for the lack of supplies is in large part due to the consistent supply chain issues brought on by the pandemic that has been affecting a number of goods.

The Biden Administration pledged 500 million test kits to be distributed throughout the country at the beginning of this month, but the execution has gotten off to a rocky start, with some areas still waiting on their supply.

"This is actually a very crowded marketplace," said Burak Kazaz, Professor of Supply Chain Management at Syracuse University on KCBS Radio's "Ask an Expert" with Holy Quan and Eric Thomas on Wednesday.

There are approximately 100 leading testing kit manufacturers in the world and most of them have received authorization from necessary authorities, he said. "But we don't have a sufficient capacity to respond to current demand."

Different regions of the country are dealing with additional slowdowns, due to inclement weather and other factors.

"We have to understand that we cannot increase the manufacturing capability rapidly," said Kazaz. "So what we have is a shortage of manufacturing capacity."

The current backlog is due to an inability to ramp up production with demand. In particular, the liquid agent that's included with the test kit, which the swab is dipped into, takes time to produce, said Kazaz, along with the rest of the packaging.

And the current structure is too centralized to provide accurate and timely results, he said. Too often people take their swab, and have to send it out to a facility in a big city for processing, and then get their results sent back to them. It would be faster to have a decentralized structure, he said.

There is a strong argument for public-private partnerships, he said. It would be better to focus on the future, and look for solutions, instead of focusing on the shortages and the issues preventing the supply from reaching people.

Testing capabilities need to be better prepared in the wake of omicron and possible future variants, he said.

"You can actually promise, but you're not going to be able to deliver," he said. In the future, it would be helpful for government and outside investment to step in and help support these manufacturers.

In the coming months, the Biden Administration should look into financing this type of effort to speed up manufacturing, said Kazaz.