U.S. still falling short on accurate testing, FDA chief says

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn has acknowledged the need to ramp up testing, but on Sunday his tone was cautious: Having an inaccurate test is worse than not having a test at all. 

Going forward, Hahn said on ABC’s “This Week,” “further ramping up testing, both diagnostic as well as the antibody tests, will really be necessary as we move beyond May into the summer months and then into the fall.” The doctor added that the United States has done more than 2 million tests, but stated: “We need to do more. No question about that.” 

However, the diagnostic testing in the U.S. has focused on those with the most severe symptoms and has been administered to less than 1 percent of the population. Hahn pointed to pressure on the supply chain as a reason for disparities in access to tests across the country — and why nations like Germany and South Korea are testing at higher rates.

Still, the commissioner issued a warning as pressures mount on the Trump administration to increase testing capabilities: The science behind the tests has to be “the right science.” 

“There’s going to be plenty of time to look back on this,” Hahn said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s really important to remember that these tests have to be valid and accurate and reliable.”

The same goes for the antibody tests, which officials increasingly have been touting and say could be released soon. 

The FDA has already authorized one antibody test, which can detect whether an individual has already been exposed to the novel coronavirus and might have immunity, but there are more on the market that haven’t been validated, Hahn said. 

While it could be “one of the keys” to get the country back on its feet, there have been reports out of some countries — like South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — of antibody tests not working. 

“I am concerned that some of the antibody tests that are in the market that haven’t gone through the FDA scientific review may not be as accurate as we’d like them to be,” Hahn said on NBC. “No test is 100 percent perfect. But what we don’t want are wildly inaccurate tests. Because, as I said before, that’s going to be much worse.” 

On Sunday, Hahn also hesitated to say whether Trump’s May 1 target to lift social distancing guidelines is realistic. Health experts have called this deadline aggressive, noting that robust testing and contact tracing capabilities should come first to avoid future outbreaks at the current scale. 

He said on ABC: “It is a target. And obviously, we’re hopeful about that target. But I think it’s just too early to be able to tell that.”

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