During Sunday night's debate, while leveling criticism at President Donald Trump's handling of the national response to the coronavirus pandemic, former Vice President Joe Biden said the Trump administration refused to get coronavirus testing kits from the World Health Organization.
"Look, the World Health Organization offered the testing kits that they have available and to give it to us now. We refused them. We did not want to buy them. We did not want to get them from them. We wanted to make sure we had our own," Biden said.
A similar claim about WHO test kits has also been circulating on Facebook .
The Biden campaign referred us to a Politico article that said the WHO shipped coronavirus tests to nearly 60 countries at the end of February, but the U.S. was not among them. That is technically correct, but it suggests that the United States would have been on the list under any circumstances.
The countries WHO helped are ones that lack the virology lab horsepower that exists across the United States. The outreach work by the Pan American Health Organization is a case in point.
The group is WHO's arm in the Americas. It conducted trainings and sent materials to conduct tests to 29 nations. The list included Paraguay, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and many others.
The group said it focused most of its efforts on "countries with the weakest health systems."
“No discussions occurred between WHO and CDC about WHO providing COVID-19 tests to the United States," said WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris. "This is consistent with experience since the United States does not ordinarily rely on WHO for reagents or diagnostic tests because of sufficient domestic capacity.”
According to interviews with several infectious-disease experts, Biden's statement leaves out context about how countries decided on which test they'd use to identify the presence of the coronavirus.
WHO lists seven different approaches — including that of China, the United States, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, France and Germany — each one targeting different parts of the COVID-19 genetic profile.
Christopher Mores, a global health professor at George Washington University, said that when faced with an outbreak, the WHO will usually adopt the best test that a research group brings forward.
The German one became the approach WHO circulated as its preferred model.
Aid groups, such as the Pan American Health Organization, took that model and built their training and supplies around it. If the model was like the recipe in a cookbook, the supplies were the ingredients in a home meal kit from Blue Apron.
Any country could use whatever recipe it preferred, and even if the United States had picked the WHO's protocol, it wouldn't need the WHO to sell it the materials to follow it. Germany released its protocol on Jan. 17 , but the U.S. decided to have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention develop its own. That protocol was published Jan. 28.
The CDC's test was different and more complicated than the German test. It worked in the CDC lab, but when the materials went out to state labs , results were inconsistent. The CDC had to resend packages with new chemical reagents.
State laboratories started developing their own tests and were ready to use them, but had to wait for emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration. All of this added up to a delay in testing capabilities, which resulted in fewer Americans being tested and an overall slower U.S. response compared with other countries. Related Stories
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