By Robert M. Kaplan and Diana Zuckerman, The Hill Opinion Contributors, May 6, 2020
There are many controversies about the coronavirus, but there is one point of consensus: We need testing, testing, and then more testing. But yesterday, in response to criticisms from chairs of two House health subcommittees, the FDA tightened their standards for antibody tests intended to identify people who were previously exposed to the coronavirus. Why?
Typically, the FDA approves tests based on evidence of accuracy. But, under the urgency of the pandemic, the FDA temporarily lifted the requirement that tests be validated before they are marketed. Until the new policy was announced, it was not clear when or if the FDA would review the accuracy of each test.
The FDA website shows that, to date, the FDA has temporarily approved coronavirus testing for 84 different labs and companies. There were 14 new approvals in the last week alone and more than 400 more applications are waiting for FDA’s review. Unfortunately, none of the tests currently available – not the 84 and not the other 400 — have a record of proven accuracy that can be independently verified.
What happens when hundreds of unvalidated tests flood the market? Monitoring a pandemic requires accurate, consistent information. With so many tests, we can’t know when cases are peaking, stabilizing, or decreasing in different communities — and therefore, when it is possible to loosen restrictions on social distancing.