U.S. government to suspend free at-home COVID-19 tests by September 2

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The FDA has cleared updated vaccines for booster use

A federal program to provide free COVID-19 tests to the public has been suspended until further notice because of a lack of funding. 

According to the official COVID.gov website where tests were previously available for order, a lack of Congressional funding has prompted this pause. Consumers now have until Friday, September 2 – or until supplies run out – to order free at-home COVID tests. 

In mid-January, President Biden created a program for consumers to order free at-home COVID-19 tests. At the time of the initial rollout, households were welcome to up to four free tests. 

The program was then extended in early March and again in mid-May for consumers to order more free at-home tests. The second round entitled households to four free COVID tests, while the most recent one allowed consumers to order up to eight tests, with the goal of increasing testing and keeping more consumers safe and healthy. 

In suspending the program for now, the government hopes to build up its stockpile of tests should cases of COVID-19 surge again with the colder temperatures this fall and winter. Experts speculate that Congress will resume funding for the free at-home testing program if COVID cases are once again on the rise in the coming months. 

Updated vaccine cleared by the FDA

In other COVID-19 news, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that both Moderna and Pfizer’s bivalent COVID-19 vaccines can be used as a dose of the booster. The bivalent vaccines are expected to provide greater protection against the virus, as they contain mRNA components from both the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the omicron variant and the original strain of the virus. 

Currently, Moderna’s bivalent vaccine can be used as a booster dose in anyone 18 years old and older, while people over the age of 12 are eligible for Pfizer’s bivalent vaccine.

The FDA warns that consumers must wait at least two months from their first booster dose before getting either bivalent vaccine, and side effects are likely to be similar to those from the original vaccine and booster. 

Additionally, the agency says that monovalent COVID-19 vaccines, which is the type that has been in distribution since December 2020 and only contains mRNA components of the original COVID-19 strain, should no longer be used for booster shots. 

“The FDA has been planning for the possibility that the composition of the COVID-19 vaccines would need to be modified to address circulating variants,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “We sought information from our outside experts on the inclusion of an omicron component in COVID-19 boosters to provide better protection against COVID-19. 

“We have worked closely with the vaccine manufacturers to ensure the development of these updated boosters was done safely and efficiently. The FDA has extensive experience with strain changes for annual influenza vaccines. We are confident in the evidence supporting these authorizations. The public can be assured that a great deal of care has been taken by the FDA to ensure that these bivalent COVID-19 vaccines meet our rigorous safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality standards for emergency use authorization.” 

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