When rapid antigen test shortage is tipped to end

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As millions of Australian concession card holders today become eligible for free rapid antigen tests (RATs), one expert has warned the nation does not have enough stock to meet demand.

National President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, Trent Twomey, told Today that pharmacies across the nation “don’t have enough” to meet demand as the program goes live.

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However Mr Twomey insisted this supply shortage will soon be rectified.

Here is what you need to know about the free rapid antigen test scheme.

When will rapid antigen test shortage end?

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Mr Twomey said supply pressure will begin to ease by next Monday, as 13 million kits arrive on Australian shores.

“There is also another 22 million arriving just for pharmacy through those wholesalers in the first three weeks of February,” Mr Twomey said.

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“We will have enough over the course of the program.

“(The shortage) is going to be fixed…Today is phase 1 or tranche 1. More will come online over the coming days and weeks.”

Who is eligible for a free rapid antigen test?

Up to 6.6 million concession cardholders will be able to access up to 10 kits, over three months.

Those with the following cards can access a free kit from today:

  • A healthcare card,
  • A low-income card,
  • A pension concession card,
  • DVA Gold card
  • DVA white card

It should be noted there’s a limit of one pack per purchase.

How can eligible Australians find a kit?

Mr Twomey said eligible Australians have the best chance of finding a kit at the bigger chemist chains.

It comes after the Pharmacy Guild of Australia previously told the Sydney Morning Herald the free scheme had invoked a “Hunger Games” supply battle between chemists.

“The bigger boys are getting stock before the smaller guys,” Mr Twomey explained.

“That’s the same with state and territories. The bigger states are getting stock before the smaller states.”

Mr Twomey has urged those seeking a kit to first look online before heading in-store.

“Go to Find a Pharmacy,” he said.

“That will be updated twice a day with the pharmacies that do and don’t have stock.

“Before you waste your time putting your kids in the car and driving around, check the website before you go and pop into your pharmacy.”

When should you use a rapid antigen test?

Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 are used at home and can provide results in as little as 15 minutes.

It can be used by both symptomatic patients and asymptomatic patients .

When rapid antigen test shortage is tipped to end
© Getty Rapid antigen tests can provide results in as little as 15 minutes.

If you take a rapid antigen test and it comes back positive, you won’t need to get a follow-up PCR test to confirm the result.

In both Victoria and NSW it’s a requirement by law to register a positive rapid antigen test result.

If either your rapid antigen or PCR test returns a positive result you must isolate at home.

How accurate are rapid tests?

Early research out of the US suggests a home nasal swab may not always detect the Omicron strain within the first few days of infection.

The study looked at 29 workers who had saliva PCR tests and nasal rapid tests at the same time.

The PCR test detected the virus on average three days before the rapid tests returned a positive result.

So, Australians are advised to attend a walk-in or drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic if you:

  • have COVID-19 symptoms
  • are a close contact of someone who has tested positive
  • have been advised to do so by a health professional.
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