Demand for antigen tests has soared in recent days with one online pharmacy seeing sales climb from a few hundred a week during the summer to more than 30,000 over the last seven days alone.
However confusion about if and how Government subsidies for the DIY Covid-19 tests will operate and past experiences of surging demand for certain Covid-related products which were followed by a collapse in sales has meant some pharmacies are reluctant to order too many antigen tests in case they are “burned” again.
Criticism has also been levelled at the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) which for months appeared to be against the use of antigen tests before endorsing them, with one pharmacist saying public health officials had been “running around like headless chickens” over the issue.
Shane O’Sullivan is the managing director of online pharmacy healthwave.ie and he told The Irish Times that “demand has soared since the Government announced it was backing them a few weeks ago”.
He said that until recently he was selling mainly to small and medium sized business and childcare operations but orders from the general public had spiked “since the Government backed them a few weeks ago. We have sold 30,000 this week alone.”
He said people were ordering 40 tests at a time. “There are getting really hard to source but we have a couple of suppliers and are dealing direct with China now so have a further 100,000 tests coming in next week. We have people on the antigen thing full time now and have taken on four staff in the last week just to manage it.”
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The tests are priced at €4.25 if bought in units of 20 and Mr O’Sullivan said the price was likely to fall in the weeks ahead if bulk orders come in as anticipated.
“The problem is that a lot of pharmacists have been burned by peaks and troughs of demand for previous products over the course of the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic people couldn’t get hand sanitiser. I was even making my own.
“But then big suppliers ramped up production and a lot of pharmacies were left with unsold stock. It was the same story with face masks. For that reason a lot of pharmacies are reluctant to get too many antigen tests in.”
He accused the Government of prevaricating on the issue and said question mark over if and how subsidies would work meant the sector was unsure of how supplies and pricing would be managed in the future.
“That means I might get 30 units in rather than 100 or 200 because I just don’t know what is going to happen next. Nphet and the Government have been running like headless chicken to be honest. They were against antigen testing for so long and now are suggesting some people use them three times a week.”
It is not just pharmacies which are stocking Antigen tests and they are selling in most supermarkets and in petrol stations with prices ranging from as little as €4 to more than €10 for one test. Lidl was among the first supermarkets to stock them and is selling five tests for €19.99.
A spokeswoman said the retailer was “delighted to see the Irish Government recognise the important role that antigen testing will play in the fight against Covid-19. From April 2021, we have provided free antigen tests for our employees for their own personal use.