Peoria pharmacies seeing high demand for at-home COVID tests, but no hoarding yet
As the omicron variant continues to spread across the nation, more and more people are turning to at-home rapid tests to keep themselves and their families safe.
The holiday season especially caused a huge surge of rapid tests being purchased at local pharmacies, including Preckshot Professional Pharmacy, and Alwan Pharmacy and Compounding Center, both located in Peoria.
Michael Blessman, the pharmacist in charge at Alwan pharmacy, said the overall demand for the at-home rapid tests nationwide has made acquiring the tests difficult for Alwan.
“As we approached the holidays, it picked up considerably, to a point that last week we just could not get them from anywhere. All wholesalers were out,” said Blessman.
Although since then both Alwan locations in Peoria and Morton have had consistent stock of the at-home tests, there is still a test shortage, according to owner of Preckshot pharmacy Corey Dolan.
“There’s a test shortage not just in the Tri-County but all over the country. That’s a fact. Everybody is on allocation, and you have to have other suppliers to get the tests, and with that comes a cost increase as well,” said Dolan.
This cost increase has had consequences for pharmacies, especially in the wake of President Biden’s promise to send out 500 million at-home tests to Americans. This has caused both supply issues and a rise in premium prices for the tests, which has been a struggle for Preckshot.
“We are buying the tests and then they’re getting held up at customs … I still do have the ability to get tests if I really needed to. It's just that it keeps coming at more of a premium. It begins to look just outrageous what I would have to pay for it in order to turn a profit,” said Dolan.
Dolan reports that some people are asking prices as high as $50 per test that the pharmacy would have to pay, resulting in a retail price of about $120. At that point, Dolan notes that it wouldn’t make financial sense for his pharmacy to invest in tests when he would have to sell them to consumers at such a high cost.
“At that point, I’m going to rely on, I guess, Biden’s promise on fulfilling all those tests,” said Dolan.
Unlike the toilet paper situation back in spring 2020, neither Blessman nor Dolan have reported witnessing any signs of test hoarding — that is, people buying unusually large amounts of tests with no intention of using them right away. While the average person might come in and buy 5 to 6 boxes, that can usually be attributed to a large family back home.
At-home test vs. PCR test
In addition to the struggle that is actually acquiring the tests, many people are confused about the difference between an at-home rapid antigen test compared to a lab-based PCR test, and their accuracy rates.
According to Blessman, each test is on the search for different things. The PCR test is looking for genetic material in the bloodstream that is released by the virus as soon as the virus enters the body. Since this material is so readily available, the test has an accuracy rate of 97%, although it may take up to 72 hours to get test results.
A rapid antigen test, however, can produce test results as quick as 10 minutes in some cases. This test is looking for something called a spike protein, which is needed for the virus to take action in the body. Initially when someone is first infected with coronavirus, there aren’t many spike proteins that these rapid tests can pick up on. This is because the virus needs time to multiply and grow within the body, which becomes the main hindrance of the rapid tests.
“If you test positive with a rapid test, it's 99% accurate. What comes into complications with the rapid tests is if you test negative. There it only has an accuracy of 68% to 72% ... that would be what’s called a false negative test where you have it, but it’s saying you don't,” explains Blessman.
He advises anyone with signs and symptoms of COVID-19 who tests negative at home to follow up with a PCR test in order to weed out the possibility of a false negative test. Both Blessman and Dolan advise the public to continue adhering to all the COVID-19 protocols, such as hand washing, and to stay home if you have or suspect you have the virus.
Dolan also offers up some preventive care tips, like nutrition supplementation, that he feels isn’t talked about enough.
“There’s a lot of literature and data out there showing different supplements to take to boost your immune system,” said Dolan. He explained that having higher levels of vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, nac, and quercetin have all been shown to help prevent getting COVID-19, in addition to helping those already infected. However, Dolan warns against going out and buying the cheapest supplements available.
“It's finding a high-quality product that's third party tested by an unbiased third party, not just going to your big box store and finding the cheapest vitamin D you can find. I think coronavirus is teaching people that the quality does matter,” said Dolan. He says the highest selling supplement at Preckshot at the moment, and the one that many physicians have recommended, is called OrthoMune.
Currently, both Alwan and Preckshot report having stock of COVID-19 at home rapid tests.