President Joe Biden has agreed to have a German pharmaceutical company build a new COVID-19 testing kit factory that will take a minimum of three years to complete.
The Biden administration agreed to a $137 million deal with MiliporeSigmna, a German brand under Merck KGaA. The factory will be built in Sheboygan, Wisconsin and is expected to produce 83.3 million tests each month.
A Dec. 29 statement from the Department of Defense did not make that project’s start date immediately clear.
“If the timeline is correct, the deal will not alleviate the administration’s scramble to make more tests available in the near future amid a lack of supply for Americans,” noted Fox News.
“Construction is expected to begin the second half of 2022 and initial planning and preparatory work is already underway,” said a MilliporeSigma spokesperson in a statement to DailyMail.com. “We estimate that the facility will be capable of providing lateral flow membranes in the latter part of 2024.”
The spokesperson added that lateral flow membranes are “critical for rapid diagnostic tests.”
“Worldwide market demand for lateral flow membrane exceeds supply, and there is limited production capacity in the United States,” the spokesperson said. “The current lack of domestic supply of lateral flow membrane impacts the United States’ ability to respond fully to the COVID-19 pandemic and any future public health emergencies.”
“Our lateral flow membranes have earned a reputation for high consistency among rapid diagnostic manufacturers and the already robust demand for this membrane has significantly increased since the onset of the pandemic,” said Jean-Charles Wirth, head of Applied Solutions, Life Science in a press release. “With this critical investment, we are expanding much-needed access to essential diagnostic testing as a trusted partner to the world’s most sophisticated diagnostic manufacturers.”
The project is funded through the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
“On Dec. 29, 2021, the Department of Defense (DoD), on behalf of and in coordination with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded a $136.7 million contract to MilliporeSigma to establish … production capacity in the United States,” said a statement from the Pentagon. “Nitrocellulose membrane is a critical material used in manufacturing SARS-CoV-2 rapid point-of-care tests.”
Biden had said earlier this month he would distribute 500 million at-home testing kits. With material in short supply, there is concern this goal will go unmet.
“You could argue that we should have known a year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago,” Biden said in an interview with ABC earlier in December. “I wish I had thought about ordering half a billion [tests] two months ago.”
Public health officials have said “testing remains one of the biggest challenges for the administration, with long lines forming at testing centers in recent days and at-home rapid tests selling out quickly, “ per NBC News. “There are still many unknowns about the omicron variant, which now accounts for the majority of new cases in the U.S. … It is more contagious than the delta variant… It is unclear whether the omicron variant is more lethal.”
Starting in January, the Department of Defense will send medical personnel to hospitals that are understaffed and overwhelmed.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to President Biden, has predicted COVID-19 testing will improve in January.
“I believe and I’m certain that as we get into January … things will markedly improve because there will be a half a billion tests available in January,” he said during a Dec. 30 appearance on NewsNation. “In subsequent months, there will be anywhere from 200 to 500 million tests per month available including the ability to go online and order a test and have it delivered to your home free.”
The lengthy timeline for the Wisconsin factory construction “is a signal that there is no end in sight for the ongoing state of crisis and no relief for suffering Americans who could soon lose faith in the White House,” says BizPacReview.