Covid Test Maker Qiagen Wants to Know Staff’s Vaccine Status

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Covid-19 test maker Qiagen NV is pushing to find out its employees’ vaccine status, saying that European privacy rules forbidding disclosure are a serious issue for the industry as demand for diagnostics once again increases.

Test makers should be classified as health-care providers, which would allow them to ask workers whether they’ve been inoculated against Covid, Chief Executive Officer Thierry Bernard said in an interview. Bernard said he wouldn’t fire workers who haven’t gotten shots, but would want to test them regularly for the virus to ensure continuity of production and avoid any risk of contamination.

“I strongly believe the border of personal freedom stops where collective safety starts,” Bernard said. “We make tests that are critical for HIV, we make tests that are critical for oncology mutations. It’s life and death for patients. I cannot risk the integrity of supply.” 

Covid vaccine mandates are spreading in the U.S. and Canada as schools, governments and employers -- including vaccine maker Moderna Inc. -- seek to stay open despite the spread of the highly contagious delta variant. In many countries in Europe, however, mandates are politically tricky, and employers aren’t allowed to ask whether workers have had their shots. 

More than half of Qiagen’s roughly 6,000-person workforce is in Europe, and some 1,350 people work at its regional headquarters in Hilden, Germany. The Dutch company hired some 400 people in the first half of the year, mostly in Europe, Bernard said. 

Sales Boost 

The CEO said he has contacted the German Ministry of Health and French authorities about the issue. The German and French health ministries didn’t respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

The pandemic has spurred sales for Qiagen, which supplies both PCR tests used to diagnose Covid as well as the materials labs need to create their own tests. 

After scaling back its forecast last month due to lower demand for Covid tests as vaccination campaigns picked up pace, Bernard said Qiagen is seeing demand for tests rise again. Across the industry as a whole, companies are now shipping close to 1 million Covid PCR tests a day in the U.S., he said -- still less than the 1.5 million-test peak in mid-January, but more than double the level of shipments in mid-June. Demand is also spiking in Israel, France, Italy and Spain, he said, predicting a rise in Germany, Austria and Switzerland as schools return to session. 

Qiagen has been able to meet the spike in demand so far, and its tests are not back-ordered, Bernard said. Though it’s hard to predict demand more than a few months in advance, he said he expected a long-term need for Covid testing products -- including to monitor antibody levels on an ongoing basis.  

“Vaccination has never killed testing,” Bernard said. “It is not only about treating; it is always about treating and testing, or testing and treating.” 

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