A rare commodity a year ago, rapid screening tests for COVID-19 are now cluttering up government coffers. Quebec does not know how to sell 63 million tests and Ottawa, 90 million more, of which at least 6.5 million will expire within 12 months.
This while schools in Quebec have stopped distributing the boxes of five tests, which we nevertheless tore off at the start of winter 2021, learned The Press.
To date, the Government of Canada has provided more than 680 million rapid tests to provinces and territories. However, these deliveries ended at the end of January, since the provinces had sufficient supplies to meet their needs.
Despite the end of federal deliveries, Quebec currently has 63 million rapid tests in its warehouses. This imposing reserve represents one and a half times the number of tests distributed free of charge in pharmacies since the start of the pandemic.
The Legault government is currently considering a strategy to sell these millions of tests in stock, indicated the public relations officer of the Ministry of Health and Social Services (MSSS), Robert Maranda, without giving more details on the solutions envisaged.
Keep them in stock
In addition to the Quebec reserve, the federal government has about 90 million tests in stock, including 50 million tests intended for the provinces and territories that will be kept ready for future need.
However, these tests cannot be stored indefinitely. On the federal side, about 80,000 tests will expire within 6 months, another 6.5 million tests will expire within 7 to 12 months, and the rest of the tests within two years.
” THE [sociétés pharmaceutiques] undertake that their tests give valid results between the date of marketing and the expiry date. The test may very well continue to be effective beyond that, but Health Canada relies on the data provided by the manufacturers,” explains Dr.r Gaston De Serres, epidemiologist at the National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ).
“It will be difficult, for a government which has tests whose expiry date has passed, to continue to distribute them”, adds the specialist.
The excluded schools
To date, Quebec has distributed some 133 million rapid tests, most (57 million) having been distributed in the school network for students. However, the government cannot count on the distribution of tests in schools in the short term to overcome its reservations.
In effect, ” no distribution of rapid tests is planned in the network, ”said to The Press the head of press relations at the Ministry of Education, Esther Chouinard. School bodies wishing to obtain one can nevertheless request one.
Pharmacists in discussion
The future of the distribution of free rapid tests in pharmacies is also uncertain. Since December 2021, Quebecers aged 14 and over can obtain a box of five rapid screening tests for COVID-19 in pharmacies for a period of 30 days.
However, this agreement between the government and pharmacists ends on March 31. “It is not renewed for the moment, but we are in discussion. We hope that it will be settled in the next month, ”indicated to The Press the president of the Association of pharmacist-owners, Benoit Morin.
According to Mr. Morin, rapid tests should continue to be offered free of charge, at least for part of the population, namely vulnerable clients at risk of complications.
MSSS spokesperson Robert Maranda maintains that there is no change at this time and that the distribution of tests continues. So far, 42 million tests have been distributed to pharmacies across the province.
Prudence or poor planning?
These millions of tests in stock probably result from a great precaution on the part of governments, estimates the former president and director general of the Agency for health and social services of Montreal, David Levine.
They may have calculated that the population would take a lot more from these boxes of tests than they actually took, but it was very difficult to assess. Probably it was more reasonable to buy a larger quantity. I think it’s a safety issue.
David Levine, former President and CEO of the Montreal Health and Social Services Agency
“For a politician who has to make health decisions in a situation of uncertainty and where the consequences of inaction can be very serious, it is better to err on the side of caution, even if it costs more, rather than to be blamed for not having done enough,” adds Régis Blais, professor in the department of management, evaluation and health policy at the School of Public Health at the Université de Montréal.
According to him, the population and the opposition in Parliament would have cried much louder if the government had not ordered enough tests rather than having too many. “Who’s going to complain now that we’ve ordered too many tests? Few people are going to go up to the barricades about it,” he said.
- 5 billion
- Cost of contracts entered into by Public Services and Procurement Canada for the purchase of rapid diagnostic tests in the country
Source: Public Health Agency of Canada