The federal government has awarded a $231 million contract to Australian company Ellume to ramp up production of its at-home coronavirus test — with 8.5 million tests guaranteed for the US, officials announced Monday.
The federal Food and Drug Administration approved the test for use in December, but the cash infusion — a joint effort by the Department of Defense, and Department of Health and Human Services — will help get the rapid tests into more people’s homes faster, said Andy Slavitt, a White House adviser on COVID-19.
“Making easier-to-use tests available to every American is a high priority with obvious benefits,” said Slavitt during a wide-ranging Monday press briefing.
“These are over-the-counter, self-performed test kits that can detect COVID with roughly 95 percent accuracy within 15 minutes,” he said.
The tests can be used by both people who suspect they may have the coronavirus and those just looking to go about their daily activities with a greater sense of safety, said Slavitt.
“They can be used if you feel symptoms of COVID-19, and also for screening for people without symptoms so they can safely go to work, to school and to events,” said Slavitt, noting that they are approved for anyone age 2 or older.
The test is a “mid-turbinate nasal swab” that’s less invasive than deeper nasal swab tests, Slavitt said.
After self-administering the test, the user puts the swab into a digital analyzer, which sends a result to the user’s smartphone within approximately 15 minutes.
Though the test has shown promise, Ellume only had the capacity to ship 100,000 kits to the US monthly from February to July — prior to the nine-figure contract.
By the end of the year, Ellume is now expected to be able to manufacture 19 million test kits every month, Slavitt said.
Some 8.5 million kits are guaranteed to the US under the deal.
Ellume has previously said that the kits will likely be available at market for around $30 a pop — a cost that Slavitt acknowledged could be prohibitive to many families, but he argued that greater availability could help drive down prices.
“The unit costs will come down only when we can get to that mass production and scale,” he said. “There’s a chicken-and-egg problem that I think we have taken a step to solve today by creating mass production so that we will have tens of millions of these tests out there.”