A year ago, the White House published the American Pandemic Preparedness: Transforming our
Capabilities Plan, outlining the investments needed to prepare for future health threats worldwide . Focus areas include diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics and manufacturing. But as COVID-19 has illustrated, there is also a need for greater public health education.
A recent online survey sponsored by Thermo Fisher Scientific found people are generally receptive to the types of pandemic preparedness measures public health officials recommend, despite a drop-off in COVID-19 testing. Still, misconceptions around when to test and testing options prevail. Conducted online in July 2022, the survey polled more than 2,000 adults in the United States and United Kingdom on their testing history, vaccination status, concern over new variants and other questions that revealed their attitudes toward COVID-19 and, more broadly, infectious disease response.
Taking a closer look at testing habits
The U.S. has reported 94.8 million COVID-19 cases, while the U.K. has seen 23.6 million . Still, one in five Americans (22%) said they have never been tested and pandemic fatigue has set in across the U.S. and U.K. Approximately one third of people in both countries (27% of Americans and 34% of Britons) reported that they are no longer testing. Their reasoning? Most said it was because they have not been sick or because they have been vaccinated, but about 10% of respondents from both countries said they have stopped testing because they believe the pandemic is over.
Most people have not stopped testing completely, but a significant number of people (20% of Americans and 37% of Britons) have been testing less frequently than earlier in the pandemic. Many of those who have been tested or are still testing cited external factors that influenced their decision, including requirements due to work, school or travel. Americans were more likely to say they tested due to possible exposure while British adults were more likely to say it was because of their job.
The survey also showed new variants have caused some concern, but that concern hasn’t resulted in behavioral changes. Concerns over variants have continued to decrease for both Americans and Britons from September 2021 to now. Two-thirds of U.S. (67%) and three-quarters of U.K. respondents (76%) said they have not changed their behaviors due to new variants.
Misconceptions around testing persist
Across both countries, the leading reasons for why people have stopped testing or are testing less frequently is because they haven’t been sick, are vaccinated, or haven’t been knowingly exposed to someone with COVID-19. “While we are testing less frequently, we must be cognizant that the risk of new COVID-19 variants arising is real. It is likely that a new, highly transmissible variant emerges, especially as we head into winter. Widespread lockdowns are unlikely the solution to address this and testing remains an important way to identify cases and control the spread,” said Dr. Manoj Gandhi, Senior Medical Director of Genetic Testing Solutions at Thermo Fisher Scientific.
There is still confusion about the types of tests offered, and their differences. Only one-third of Americans (34%) and one-half of Britons (48%) reported that they know the difference between an antigen test and a PCR test for COVID-19. In the U.S., this result has fluctuated little over the years. Half of respondents from both groups believe it doesn’t matter what test they receive, as they are all equally accurate.
“Almost three years into the pandemic, it is disappointing to see there is a lack of understanding of how the different testing methods work and where they can be used. PCR tests are highly accurate and are considered the gold-standard for COVID-19 testing,” said Dr. Gandhi, “Antigen tests, on the other hand, are generally less sensitive than PCR tests and not quite as accurate but can provide results faster and be used as a quick screening test.”
Looking ahead toward preparedness
One surprising finding: even with widespread pandemic fatigue, both groups voiced a willingness to participate in measures, including testing, to prevent the spread of other infectious diseases. When asked about behavior changes if sick with something other than COVID-19, the majority of people in both countries shared they are now more willing to get tested, be vigilant about social distancing, and self-isolate.
Most Americans (69%) and British adults (80%) said they believe routine testing is an important measure to prevent the spread of future infectious disease outbreaks. There was also acceptance for increased access to vaccines and greater public health education on handwashing and mask-wearing. “Despite COVID-19 fatigue, there has been progress in public understanding of what’s needed to mitigate infectious disease outbreaks before they become pandemics,” said Dr. Gandhi.
“Education is key. Going forward, we have to continue the dialogue with the public and make sure that people understand the importance of testing and vaccines. It is critical that we are prepared and not caught off guard; we have already seen monkeypox become a global outbreak within the past few months,” concluded Dr. Gandhi.
The survey was conducted online by Regina Corso Consulting on behalf of Thermo Fisher Scientific between July 21 and 29, 2022 among 1,008 U.S. residents and 1,004 U.K. residents aged 18 and older. The U.S. sample was balanced by age, gender, region, education and income to be representative of the
United States as a whole. The U.K. sample was balanced by age and gender to be representative of the United Kingdom as a whole. Earlier surveys (also by Regina Corso Consulting on behalf of Thermo Fisher) were conducted in November 2020 in the U.S., February 2021 in the U.S. and U.K. and September 2021 in the U.S. and U.K.