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Rapid antigen tests are proving to be in such high demand across the country, people are lining up for hours, or resorting to unauthorized online sellers to get their hands on them.
On sites like Craigslist and Twitter, the tests are being sold for upwards of $350 for a box of 25. In cities like Toronto and Montreal, people are bearing the frigid weather in long queues in an attempt to snap up a box of the coveted tests.
You know things are not going great when "Hunger Games" is trending on Twitter in Canada, and it's about people trying to get rapid tests ahead of the holidays.
— Lesya (@lesyanak) December 20, 2021
Retweet if you agree that our governments should send a package of rapid tests & N95 masks to every household, every week, for free.
— Dr. Amit Arya (@AmitAryaMD) December 19, 2021
As people re-sell rapid tests they obtained for free, online, it is foreseeable that daily rapid testing and N95s for all will be required to keep our hospitals staffed to meet existing (pre-Omicron impact) demand.
Our priorities as a community will change very quickly.
— Michael Warner (@drmwarner) December 19, 2021
I was planning to go to the pharmacy which opens at 8am to pick up my pack of rapid tests which are finally available today but the rest of the city had the same plan. Lined up around the block on the coldest day of the year. #montreal #quebec #covid pic.twitter.com/j3i9MuV3PH
— jennifer dorner (@jenniferdorner) December 20, 2021
if i can get a pregnancy test from the dollarstore for $3 i should also b able to get a rapid test for about $3
— 𝔪 (@angxl_dust) December 20, 2021
Here’s an idea: the next season of Amazing Race Canada should be people racing around the city trying to find rapid tests and booster shots.
— Robin Singer (@RobinSinger3) December 20, 2021
Amazing the hysteria whipped up in 2 weeks about rapid tests/boosters. There is no data saying that you need a booster to survive Omicron, and most people are unaware that you shouldn't use that rapid test unless you have symptoms. Anxiety overload. #covid #ontario #RapidTests
— JA (@canada_ns_) December 20, 2021
Went to the union station rapid antigen test pickup at 8:30. It opened at 7 and was out by 7:20 because they were only given 1,000 tests. Then went to Shoppers & Rexall and neither sell the tests. How does this make any sense?
— ✨Chelsea (she/her)✨ (@ChelseaLaVecch) December 20, 2021
Rapid tests are not always reliable, professor warns
Matthew S. Miller, associate professor in the M.G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University says the rapid tests are a useful tool to decrease the risk of transmitting the virus, but like all interventions, they are imperfect.
Rapid tests results really only represent a snapshot in time when the test was taken. Individuals can test negative one day, and positive the next, as infection progresses. Non-expert user error can also contribute to unreliable results.Matthew S. Miller, Associate Professor, M.G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research
That’s why rapid tests, which are meant for people not experiencing any symptoms, are most useful when combined with other interventions that are known to be effective in reducing risk of transmission, like getting vaccinated, masking up, and good ventilation in indoor spaces. Miller says the tests alone should not be interpreted as “carte blanche” to engage in activities that present a high possibility of transmitting the COVID-19 virus – especially to those who are vulnerable.
Naheed Dosani, health equity lead at Kensington Health in Toronto, says it’s heartbreaking to see tests that are meant to be distributed throughout the community being re-sold online and blames the government for their inadequate response.
“The rollout wasn’t thought out in a way to make sure that the most vulnerable people got access in the process,” he says. “Many people can’t afford to line up for hours. The most vulnerable amongst us will simply not be able to get access.”
He adds that the rapid tests were prioritized for businesses and are also being used on people who refused to be vaccinated.
“The government created a situation where there’s no supply and such a high demand and we see entities like Shoppers Drug Mart charging upwards of $40 per test,” he says. “The way rapid tests have been distributed in Ontario has inequity written all over it.”
Dosani says in Ontario and across the country, there should be more discussion on how the rapid tests are being prioritized.
“Governments should be working towards ensuring there’s enough rapid tests for every household, every single week, for free” he says.