Dr Tony Holohan says antigen tests could contribute to causing "super-spreading events" 1 month ago

Dr Tony Holohan says antigen tests could contribute to causing "super-spreading events"

Holohan said his criticism was "not a question of trust" in the public, but rather in the accuracy of the tests.

Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Doctor Tony Holohan has said that antigen tests could cause "potential super-spreading events" if used incorrectly.

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Speaking with Bryan Dobson on RTÉ News at One on Monday, Dr Holohan said that he is concerned the tests will cause "false reassurance" for members of the public.

Last week, retail giant Lidl announced it would begin to sell Covid-19 antigen tests for just €24.99 per pack of five in all Irish stores as of 7 May.

However, the retailer was met with criticism by both Dr Holohan and Maynooth University President, Phillip Nolan following the announcement.

"The risk that we see, and I wasn't critical of retailers, I was advising people in terms of their behaviours, to not buy these tests in retail environments and then use them," Dr Holohan said on Monday.

"It's not an issue of antigen testing, it's about people's interpretation of what the result means, and it's really, really important that antigen testing is used, like any other test or any other technology, in certain circumstances, where we know its use is underpinned by really good evidence that it works.

"The risk we see is that if you get a negative test, it might falsely reassure you."

The CMO said that his criticism was "not a question of trust" in the public, but rather in the accuracy of the tests.

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"We have to be careful we don't find ourselves in a situation whereby we have people behaving as though they don't have the disease, when in fact, they do," he added.

"It's not a question of trust on the part of the public, it's trust in the outcome of the test. The test doesn't give a reliable enough negative test.

"What we could really be inducing here is a situation where people feel having taken this test 'I don't need to go with my symptoms to my GP and get a PCR test'. Or they may feel that they can in fact undertake activities that are not safe for them to undertake and spread the disease to other people."

Dr Holohan also said he is concerned the tests could be responsible for potential "super-spreading events" due to the inexactitude of the antigen testing method.

"Even in expert hands, maybe around 50% of the time with sensitivity, that means one in every two cases, where an antigen test is done, we're finding it will miss the disease," he continued.

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"In that case, it might pick up a case and is beneficial to the person, but in a case, for example, where it falsely reassures a person who is going to a wedding that is happening because you're using antigen tests, you have the potential for a super-spreading event to take place."

Lidl has encouraged shoppers who purchase the tests "to continue to stringently follow the public health advice", saying the tests should only be used as an added level of reassurance.

A spokesperson for Lidl said: "We have the utmost respect and support for NPHET and the Government, and have stringently followed and promoted their health advice since the onset of the pandemic.

"In relation to our tweet regarding the tests, we posted a tweet in response to Dr Tony Holohan’s comment on Friday which included advice urging our shoppers to continue to stringently follow the public health advice, and drawing attention to the fact that we added antigen tests to our product range to add an extra level of reassurance for our customers as they continue to follow this advice.

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"We urge our customers to carefully read the manufacturer instructions on these EU approved tests before use, which direct users to follow local government advice on receiving the results of the test.

"Our communication to date has clearly referenced that antigen testing should only be used as an additional measure to provide extra reassurance to customers in addition to following the public health advice. This is a serious issue, and we believe that our antigen tests can play a role in the prevention of the spread of this disease.

"We continue to actively promote the public health advice with regards to social distancing, face masks, hand washing etc. in our stores, regional distribution centres and offices and through all our communication channels in order to continue to keep our customers and employees safe."