The AAMC sent a letter to Ambassador Deborah Birx, MD, coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, on April 13 regarding challenges with and recommendations for maximizing the capacity for testing individuals for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
In the letter sent by AAMC President and CEO David Skorton, MD, the AAMC set forth concerns that academic labs have faced in getting maximum capacity from existing RNA extraction machines for which the manufacturers have developed tests and also in developing and validating their own tests. There are a number of reasons why machines are not being used or not working at maximum capacity. “Widespread but uneven shortages in one or more of the essential components for testing have resulted in a situation where few labs are able to maximize the testing capacity of any one machine, platform, or test,” noted the letter.
Challenges academic labs face include reported shortages in swabs for collecting biological samples, reagents needed for specific tests, and sterile media to transport swabs from the patient to the lab after collection. Additionally, trained technicians are needed to run these complex tests, and those individuals require personal protective equipment. Without a national coordination effort, the letter noted, academic labs are left “at a loss to improve the situation on a lab-by-lab basis.”
To address these concerns, the AAMC made three recommendations for steps that the federal government should take to improve the national testing capacity.
- Move quickly to deploy a web portal that would allow all laboratories to easily report reagent or other supply shortages that are slowing or preventing testing from occurring.
- Take a clearer role in the assessment and management of the supply chain for key testing reagents and supplies.
- Implement a transparent communication system to inform vendors and labs about the priorities, directions, and specific needs of the community.
The need for national coordination of the testing system and the AAMC letter have been widely covered in national media outlets, including CNN, the Los Angeles Times, Politico, The Hill, CBS This Morning, Bloomberg News, and Modern Healthcare.