HM family leading the way on COVID-19 testing

Arushi Talwar and Zachary Kurtz

Throughout the past few months, Ben Feldman (11) has been working on the COVID-19 Response Team at his father’s company, Vault Health. They have been developing and administering a saliva-based COVID-19 test, which was recently made available to the public. The test will be the first FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) approved of its kind, which allows the FDA to facilitate its availability during public health emergencies. This test will be equally effective as the more commonly used swab test.

Vault collaborated with the Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory to develop the test, CEO and Co-Founder of Vault Health Jason Feldman P’21 said. “It involved careful communication and coordination to build a physician-ordered, provider-supervised, and physician report test flow that has never existed,” he said. 

To receive a test, individuals go to Vault’s website to answer three questions about their virus exposure and symptoms, Ben said. From there, a Vault physician prescribes the test and sends it to the customer overnight. When it arrives, the individual must log onto a Zoom call with a Vault Health provider to oversee the saliva collection, he said. This test gets sent back to the lab, and results return anywhere between 48 to 72 hours.

Before the release of the test, Ben’s main responsibility was administrative tasks pertaining to the company’s expansion across U.S. markets, as Vault Health is primarily a men’s health platform, he said. Now, he focuses on reporting test results as required to applicable healthcare government authorities for their public health activities, he said. 

Ben’s accomplishment will significantly impact others, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly said. “Whether Ben’s contributions are large or small, he’s chosen to lean into the discomfort caused by the pandemic by channeling his work ethic into something positive for humankind.”

This testing will help millions of people by reassuring them that they can take care of family members or get back to work, or indicating that they should take the appropriate actions to continue their quarantine, Ben said.

There are also economic benefits to this novel form of testing, as people beginning to safely come back to work safely will restart the economy, Jason said. 

The main concern pertaining to the virus is the multitude of people who are asymptomatic with this pathogen, biology teacher Dr. Matthew Wallenfang said. “We need a means of identifying those people who are potentially contagious so that we can limit the isolation to those individuals.” 

Vault’s goal is to eliminate the significant and widespread possibility of direct transmission, as well as to preserve the already limited supply of personal protective equipment, according to their website. 

“We are stretching ourselves by working with Rutgers to make the availability of testing more consistent and accessible than finding a physical location and risking unnecessary contact with others who might be exposed,” Jason said. “We expect that adding several thousand or tens of thousands of tests per day will make a dent in the testing capacity of the US.”

Having a test that people can administer themselves at home could be a notable advancement, especially when dealing with such an easily transmittable pathogen, Wallenfang said. 

Vault’s simplified testing process still has its challenges, specifically because it involves regulations from state and federal agencies, Ben said. “Over 500 people had to be trained across the US over a limited time period, and the complexity in scheduling across 50 states is a challenge all in itself,” he said.

Nevertheless, Kelly said the test’s existence gives people hope for other tests similar to this one, as well as a possible vaccine.

As Vault continues its efforts in making testing more consistent across the country, the team is fully committed to helping people in need, Jason said. 

“Millions of people are looking for an answer and peace of mind about their health during these uncertain times,” Ben said. “The work being done at Vault Health and the Rutgers Genomics Laboratory are not just going to help the community, it is going to help the entire country.”