Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand today announced today a plan to buy roughly 7.9 million rapid point-of-care COVID-19 tests from U.S.-based Abbott Laboratories.
The purchase is meant to offer other testing options to Canadians at a time when the country’s testing apparatus is being severely strained, with coronavirus caseloads spiking in some regions.
To date, the vast majority of tests have been done at public health clinics, with samples then sent to laboratories for analysis — a process that can take days.
A point-of-care test could be administered by trained professionals in other settings. The test Canada is looking to buy — the ID NOW — can produce results from a nasal swab in as little as 13 minutes.
While Canada has announced this purchase from a well-regarded U.S. firm, the test itself has not yet been approved by Health Canada for distribution.
“As with many of our agreements for equipment, tests and vaccines, we have pursued an advanced purchase agreement to secure Canada’s access to these tests conditional on Health Canada’s regulatory approval,” Anand said.
“These rapid tests will aid in meeting the urgent demands from provinces and territories to test Canadians and reduce wait time for results, which is key to reducing the spread of the virus.”
Anand said that, beyond the Abbott deal, Canada will proactively purchase other rapid tests in bulk to supply the country.
With tens of thousands of tests being done each day, the demand is high.
The announcement comes as Health Canada bureaucrats in charge of regulating new testing devices are defending the government’s response to this point.
Health experts — including Dr. David Naylor, the co-chair of the federal government’s COVID-19 task force — have for weeks been urging regulators to approve rapid testing to take the pressure off testing centres.
While other major Western countries such as the U.S. authorized point-of-care tests months ago, Health Canada regulators have been slow to give the necessary approvals to deploy these devices.
In fact, the first approval for a point-of-care device — one that could be used in such settings as a doctor’s office or a walk-in clinic — only came last week.
On Sept. 23, Health Canada approved for use in Canada the Hyris BCube — a portable device that its Guelph, Ont.-based distributor says can be used “wherever people are — anytime, anywhere.”
The regulator hasn’t yet approved any antigen tests — a different form of testing that can be easily deployed to high-risk workplaces and schools to help identify positive COVID-19 cases.
The antigen tests — which, depending on the device, use matter collected from a nasal or throat swab — don’t require the use of a lab to generate results.
While much faster, these tests are considered by some to be less accurate than the “gold standard” — the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing process currently in use across Canada.
Antigen testing devices like Quidel Corporation’s Sofia 2 SARS, which received emergency authorization from the U.S. FDA in May, can produce results in less than 20 minutes.
Antigen tests have been used in thousands of U.S. long-term care homes for months.