The development and approval of two vaccines for COVID-19 in the same year the virus spread across the globe is a remarkable feat of science. The incredible speed to market for these vaccines is simply unprecedented, but it will still be months before the vaccines are available to most people. For much of 2021, we will continue to rely heavily on testing to safely go to work, attend classes, travel and go about our lives.
Yet according to a new online survey of more than 2,000 adults in the U.S., two-thirds of Americans (64%) have not been tested for COVID-19. Their primary reason for not being tested is because they have not been sick, despite estimates that up to 20% of infections are asymptomatic but still contagious.  Further, nearly half (48%) of Americans believe if they take other measures such as wearing a mask they do not need to be tested.
The survey also revealed widespread confusion on testing. While media outlets such as The New York Times have reported extensively on test accuracy and types of tests available, doubts remain.
- The majority of Americans (63%) believe COVID-19 tests can be wrong as much as half the time.
- More than half of Americans (54%) say it doesn’t matter what kind of test you get as they are all equally accurate.
- Less than a third (30%) say they know the difference between antigen tests and PCR tests.
In reality, PCR-based tests, which are designed to detect COVID-19 with a high degree of sensitivity, are considered by experts to be more accurate than antigen tests, which can provide results quickly but are less sensitive. Given the choice, the majority of Americans (74%) say they would choose a COVID-19 test with the most accurate results, even if they might have to wait longer for those results.
“Thermo Fisher commissioned this survey to better understand Americans’ testing habits and perspectives and the results are clear: further education is needed,” said Manoj Gandhi, M.D., Ph.D., senior director of medical affairs, Genetic Sciences, Thermo Fisher Scientific. “Misinformation and doubts on test accuracy are preventing Americans from getting tested. Even as vaccines become available, testing will remain an important strategy to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
While the survey reveals insights about U.S. adults, it suggests that citizens in other countries may experience similar confusion about when and how to test for COVID-19. Better education about test types, appropriateness and best uses is clearly a global imperative and will be for months to come.
This survey was conducted online within the U.S. by Regina Corso Consulting on behalf of Thermo Fisher Scientific from Nov. 23 and 25, 2020, among 2,087 adults ages 18 and older who are U.S. residents. The sample was balanced by age, gender, region, education and income to be representative of the U.S. as a whole.