coronavirus

High Demand for At-Home COVID Tests Has Pharmacists Struggling to Keep Them Stocked

With rising COVID-19 cases, worries about the omicron variant and holiday travel plans, many people are relying on over-the-counter tests

NBC Universal, Inc.

Three factors are pushing demand for the at-home testing kits; a rise in cases, the new omicron variant and the holiday season. Availability changes daily and fluctuates by store and brand.

The spike in COVID-19 infections, concerns over the new omicron variant and holiday travel are some of the reasons customers are seeking more over-the-counter COVID-19 tests, causing stores and pharmacies to run out of stock.

"I've gone to several pharmacies and I haven't been able to get it," said Cheri Zunick.

Zunick would love to hang out with her friends again, all of whom are trying to be extra cautious.

"I can't get together with any of my friends. Everybody wants people to take a rapid test before they get together for the holidays or for New Year's," she said.

This holiday season, the rapid, at-home COVID tests are in high demand in the same way popular toys often are.

"It is not easy to find the tests," said Bird's Hill Pharmacy owner and pharmacist Andrew Stein.

Stein is having to turn to online retailers such as Amazon to keep his shelves stocked.

"Unfortunately, I can't get those from my wholesalers at this point," he said. "We are buying them retail and passing them along, making sure they are available for our customers."

Those customers include Ben Howe, who was able to buy a pair of tests for a rainy day.

"I'm in the office pretty much every workday, so I want to make sure I have an available test if I need it," he said.

Dara Warn decided to turn to the web.

"I've been looking at Amazon and Walmart," she said. "This weekend, I went into walmart.com, and they had a bunch, so I ordered 10."

Availability can change on any given day — by store and by brand.

A quick search on the CVS website for a particular home COVID test and results vary by location.

At one Walgreens branch in Boston, the new InteliSwab test was in stock, while the popular BinaxNOW wasn't.

BinaxNOW maker Abbott told NBC10 Boston it ramped up production over the summer, producing 50 million test kits a month to keep up with demand.

"We got our first shipment of them just last week, and we sold out within two days," said Dedham Pharmacy & Medical Supply staff pharmacist Carolyn Elaimy.

The independent Dedham Pharmacy was only recently able to get its first batch of tests since the start of the pandemic. It is now waiting for its second shipment.

"There's just been a huge demand this holiday season," she noted.

The big-chain pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens told NBC10 Boston they are working with their suppliers to ensure the over-the-counter COVID-19 tests continue to be re-stocked through the holidays.

With the holidays, the new variant and rising cases, the demand for at-home tests for COVID-19 has gone up.