The fever for antigen testing only goes up. For about ten days, when this sixth wave exploded and before the collapse of Primary Care, the demand for self-tests with which at least have an approximate idea of how one is doing has skyrocketed, causing a “stock break” and long Queues in pharmacies, usually unsuccessful except for early risers or those who are lucky enough to be caught by the distribution just waiting. “They have brought 150 this morning and they have lasted an hour,” explained a Madrid pharmacist this week as people crowded the door.
The keys to rapid antigen tests for self-diagnosis (for Christmas dinners)
“As the message is that it is better to have a negative antigen than nothing and you call the health center and there is no appointment to do a PCR, people continue to buy the tests on their own,” explains a spokeswoman for the IQVIA consultancy, specialized in the health sector. This is a privatization of the diagnosis, but without absolute guarantees because for these tests to be positive they have to be performed at a very specific moment of the infection (usually between days 4 and 6).
This consulting firm records the evolution of stock national antigen test in pharmacies and already at the beginning of the week he warned: the sale of tests has been on the constant rise for two months, when barely 100,000 units were sold weekly, until the (for now) peak that we see these days, when almost a million and a half tests are being sold per week due to the need to attend Christmas dinners and events with some kind of security.
In this sixth wave, 32.7% more tests are being sold than in the fifth peak. Until the market has ended up bursting. There are hardly any tests, nor are they expected, they explain from IQVIA. “There are already manufacturers, such as Cinfa, who say that they will not have them until January,” they say from the consultancy. With a network of national providers connected, the situation is the same throughout the country, explains Ana López, spokesperson for the Steering Committee of the Council of Colleges of Pharmacists of Spain. Something similar is happening in all the autonomous communities: it is almost a miracle to find tests in pharmacies in any city these days.
Prices go up, resale arrives
The consequences of a surpassed market are known: the prices of the few available products rise and the second-hand market is activated through resale websites, such as Wallapop or Milanuncios. López admits that “some price variations” are being detected, but he remembers that pharmacists are only intermediaries and “do not influence the supply, which depends on the companies, or the demand, which comes from the sixth wave.” The situation reminds the Council spokesperson of what happened to the masks when their mandatory use was established, “although it is not so dramatic because that lasted a long time and there was much speculation” and the current forecast is that, although the peak of demand is keep a bit ahead of New Years Eve, the sales curve ends up going down sooner rather than later.
“At the time, we asked that the price of masks be regulated at source,” explains López, “and this situation is very similar,” he slides without actually specifying the request. More direct is the General Council of Nursing, which has also detected the problem, speaks of increases of up to 200% and demands that the Government regulate it. “It is inadmissible that prices have risen due to the increase in demand for these dates and that there are differences of more than ten euros between some establishments and others, thus causing a huge injustice for society,” the CGE lamented in a press release .
According to a survey carried out by Más País, Spain has the highest prices in Europe in these tests: in the UK you can buy two free a week that the government sends homeIn Germany one and France have a maximum cost limited to six euros, for example. Spain, nothing. “If what you want is to increase early diagnosis, it is essential that a maximum price be set”, defends the president of the General Nursing Council, Florentino Pérez Raya.
“We always defended that the self-diagnostic tests were through the pharmacy channel because we understood that it is an important diagnostic aid tool, which could help health authorities to early management of cases and deal with positive ones quickly,” he recalls Lopez. “We consider it a complementary tool, never a substitute, to decongest primary school.” It doesn’t seem to have been very successful.
This idea that López slides is working only half. Given the situation of primary care in most communities, citizens are using the tests more as a substitute for a public service that is not present in all the autonomous regions than as a complement to it. Still, there are nuances. In Galicia, President Núñez Feijóo announced last Wednesday that he will re-enable the points to take free tests in train stations and airports, in addition to opening hospitals for PCR to asymptomatic close contacts. In Madrid, Ayuso has opened spaces in hospitals, but only for people with symptoms.
The positives that are not reported
The Council regrets, in any case, that the implementation of the system they had in mind was left halfway. “We offered the possibility for the tests to be carried out in pharmacies, with the help of the pharmacist, and for the pharmacist to communicate the results directly to the regional health services” to be confirmed by PCR, the spokesperson explains. In this way, case management would have been more efficient.
But only seven autonomous communities developed this method: Navarra, Cantabria, Catalunya, Aragon, Galicia, Euskadi and La Rioja, according to the Council. The four regions with the highest cumulative incidence at 14 days are among those seven that articulated a system for the test results to reach Health: Navarra, La Rioja, the Basque Country and Aragon. In other communities without this system, such as Madrid, the positives of these antigen tests very often remain within the scope of the person concerned, who will self-manage their contagion (if they do not have serious symptoms) at will.
Given the evidence that the market for tests is practically at zero, and it is an official recommendation to do one before meeting with family or friends on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve, the Executive tries to reactivate the market. The Government decided this past Wednesday, within its package of measures to improve the situation, to temporarily authorize the sale of antigen tests for professional use in pharmacies. One of these tests, of Spanish origin, already has the authorization of the Spanish Agency for Medicines and Health Products and will arrive in pharmacies shortly, which will allow “to alleviate the situation somewhat, although we already know that it is insufficient”, as confirmed by the Council of Colleges of Pharmacists.