COVID-19 Rapid Tests Now Available at Pharmacies: What to Know

Three over-the-counter rapid COVID-19 tests are now available at pharmacies. Getty Images

Three rapid COVID-19 tests are now available over the counter at CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart pharmacies.Experts say the tests can be key in helpi…

Three over-the-counter rapid COVID-19 tests are now available at pharmacies. Getty Images
  • Three rapid COVID-19 tests are now available over the counter at CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart pharmacies.
  • Experts say the tests can be key in helping reduce the spread of COVID-19.
  • They note that the tests could also be useful for future disease outbreaks.

Medicine cabinet staples such as bandages, Tylenol, and Ipecac need to make room for a new product hitting pharmacy store shelves.

CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart are now selling over-the-counter (OTC) COVID-19 tests.

Three brands of tests began appearing on shelves this week.

The products available now are: 

The Ellume COVID-19 Home Test Kit – $38.99: Ellume is the first rapid, fully at-home test to receive emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for at-home use without a prescription. This test delivers results in 15 minutes through a free app downloaded to a smartphone. 

Abbott BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test – $23.99:  This fully at-home test delivers results in 15 minutes. The box contains two tests that should be administered twice over three days with at least 36 hours in between. 

Pixel by Labcorp Home Collection Kit – $124.99: The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test includes a remote evaluation by lab clinicians, typically within 1 to 2 days. Customers send their tests to Labcorp, and once processed, results are accessed via the Pixel by Labcorp website.

Access to testing at home will be key, experts say, to help people feel safe and confident heading out in the world and continue to help people take cautionary steps in both this pandemic and a post-pandemic world.

“Vaccinations and testing go hand in hand,” said Mary A. Rodgers, PhD, principal scientist in Abbott’s diagnostics sector, told Healthline. “Even when the world is vaccinated, we’re going to need to continue testing.”

The importance of the tests

This OTC testing makes all that simpler.

Each test is easy to administer at home and has a swab that doesn't need to be put too far up the nose. 

Infectious disease experts say the OTC tests, used correctly, are a welcome addition to COVID-19 management.

“On a community level, the ability to do mass screening with OTC kits means that gatherings could happen more safely,” Dr. Gregg Miller, chief medical officer at Vituity and an emergency medicine physician at Swedish Edmonds in Seattle, told Healthline.

“It will be interesting to see if mass gatherings – sporting events, music shows, or other venues like schools, businesses, or airports — start requiring proof of a negative test,” he said.

“For example, might a professional convention in Las Vegas distribute these tests to all attendees and require you to show a negative result prior to entering the conference hall?” Miller asked.

How will tests be used?

Rodgers said the tests could help those planning a gathering ensure their event is safe.

The tests, she said, can also provide peace of mind if you have concerns.

“Think of allergy season,” Rodgers said. “We tend now to think ‘is it allergies or is it COVID?' It’s nice to now be able to be sure before going to see someone or go somewhere.”

If a person is showing symptoms, they should have someone else purchase their OTC test if they don’t have one at home already.

In the case of a positive test, users should always call their medical professional, she said.

At-home tests, for now, will not replace in-person medical testing.

“A rapid test used just once is not as accurate as the slower PCR tests that healthcare providers administer,” Miller said.

“If someone is symptomatic and is at high risk for COVID, a negative OTC test will not be as reassuring as a negative PCR test since it only picks up 85 percent of infections,” he added.

Still, said Rodgers, the ease of use along with the fact that Abbott's test has been used 200 million times should provide some reassurance.

Steve Blanc, an expert in healthcare diagnostics, said that while he feels the OTC tests will help now, he wonders about the price and if people will opt to see their doctor, where a test can be covered by insurance. 

Still, he said, the at-home tests are a positive step, and we may need them in the future, even after COVID-19 has eased.

“Pandemics and infections disease are part of our world,” Blanc told Healthline. “Having OTC tests around just in case are going to be a part of our lives going forward.”