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Labs facing shortages of COVID and non-COVID testing supplies

Posted at 4:05 PM, Nov 27, 2020

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The pandemic ignited a global fight against a fast-moving and deadly virus.

“In the beginning, a lot of manufacturers shifted gears and started doing more COVID manufacturing," said Dr. Melissa Miller, a clinical lab director.

Manufacturers began ramping up testing production and diverting supplies to combat the virus.

But in the months ahead, laboratories started facing another threat due to a strained supply chain. Not only were labs facing shortages of supplies needed for COVID-19, but several other common illnesses.

“Probably the biggest one was for sexually transmitted diseases, chlamydia, gonorrhea being the most common ones we diagnose in the labs," said Dr. Miller.

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) partnered with the Association of Supply Chain Management to track shortages across the country. ASM leaders say the data collection tool provides a near real-time visualization into the capacity, utilization, and resources necessary to meet consumer and patient demand for testing.

“It was a bit of a surprise of how overwhelming it was throughout the country and that there weren’t just hot spots; it really indicated that this was a major national issue," said Dr. Miller. “The first week of the survey, almost 90% of the laboratories that responded reported a shortage of tests for STI’s.”

Dr. Miller has a leadership role within ASM and has also been experiencing shortages in the lab firsthand.

"It’s a guessing game. Many times we don’t know when the next shipment is coming for some of the items we’re short on," said Dr. Miller.

Since September, 134 CLIA-certified labs have responded to the survey, which is updated every week.

Dr. Miller says the figure for STI testing supplies has improved but is still too high around 50%.

And she says 47% of labs have a shortage of non-COVID-19 testing supplies to detect routine bacteria, including the bacteria that cause strep throat, pneumonia, bronchitis, and urinary tract infections.

"Since June, I have been worried about this exact moment," said Dr. Miller. “You have the COVID surge, the upcoming holidays, and the winter season, and you have respiratory season."

The survey also showed 74% of labs have a shortage of commercial testing kits for COVID-19.

She says the hope is to include more labs in the weekly survey to get a clearer picture of the supply chain issues.

“Data is power; we need the data that this is a problem. And getting some federal action on this, I think, is critical," said Dr. Miller.

And she says the longer labs wait for critical supplies, the more Americans in need of critical testing could be turned away.