MADRID – Precisely at the peak of the sixth corona wave, Spain is struggling with a shortage of antigen tests. There are queues of people in front of pharmacies trying to buy a test to celebrate New Year’s Eve carefree. Furthermore, sometimes the tests are extortionate prices of up to €12.
Due to the current logistical problems, fewer corona tests are available worldwide. In Spain, however, this shortage of corona tests is noticeably greater than in other European countries. El País investigated how this is possible and concludes the Ministry of Health and the regional authorities made a number of choices. Consequently, this means the stock is now small and the price extremely high.
For example, according to the head of infectious diseases, José Miguel Cisneros of Hospital Virgen del Rocío in Seville, the importance of home tests has been underestimated. Although the tests are less reliable than PCR tests, they still play an important role in preventing virus spread.
Waiting for quality mark
Unlike countries such as Germany or France, Spain has stricter criteria for the sale of the home tests. These must, among other things, have a quality mark from certain European organisations to be used at home. However, these organisations have reached a bottleneck for availability due to the high demand. As a result, the supply of home tests in Spain is considerably lower than in other countries. Therefore, the country remains largely dependent on imports, especially from China.
Whereas, in the Netherlands and Germany, the self-tests are for sale at pharmacies, drugstores, and supermarkets. And they often cost less than €3. The tests are also available in supermarkets in Italy and France. And, furthermore, in England, they are even distributed free of charge. This is to give everyone the opportunity to test themselves twice a week. Therefore, the long queues at the pharmacy, will not be seen in other European countries.
When asked, sources told El País that Spain has been reticent when it comes to the importance of the home test in the fight against the pandemic. One of the reasons for this is the relatively large percentage (30%) of false-negative test results. However, this percentage decreases if the test is taken when symptoms have already occurred. It also decreases if the test is not carried out until the fifth day after contact with an infected person.
Because a negative test result offers false safety, the Ministry of Health has been reluctant to recognize the importance of the home test. The Spanish Society of Epidemiology (SEE) also notes that in countries where the home test is widely used, the number of infections in recent weeks has not been significantly lower than in Spain.
Yet the demand for self-tests in Spain was suddenly so great this month (more than 6 million tests sold) that there is now a shortage to meet this demand. A spokesperson for the Federation of Pharmaceutical Distributors said the supply shortage will be resolved next week.
No price regulation
The Ministry of Health has announced that it will not intervene in the sometimes extreme price increase of the home tests. According to a spokesperson, it is not a drug and therefore the sellers are free to determine their price. Moreover, unlike the mouth caps, the use of self-tests is not mandatory and the situation is now different from that of April 2020.
Also, read our previous article on the impact of the cost of the corona self-tests.