Stephen Donnelly calls NPHET member's tweet comparing antigen tests to snake oil unhelpful 1 month ago

Stephen Donnelly calls NPHET member's tweet comparing antigen tests to snake oil unhelpful

The row surrounding antigen tests continues...

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said that a tweet from Professor Philip Nolan comparing antigen tests to "snake oil" was unhelpful.

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Last week, supermarket chain Lidl announced that they would be selling antigen tests, which are faster but less reliable than PCR tests - the latter considered the gold standard in regards to detecting Covid-19.

Following the announcement, Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan said during a Department of Health briefing: “We are concerned that someone could go into the supermarket and buy a pound of sausages and charcoal for a BBQ, and an antigen test. That represents a real risk to our pandemic response.

"These tests, if not used properly, have little role to play. If it falsely reassures people, that's a real risk.”

In response, Lidl posted a tweet that read: "Weekend Super Savers! Pick up a pound of sausages, charcoal for the BBQ and antigen tests for €31," alongside a photograph of the three items.

Lidl later clarified that the post was a "joke" and encouraged their shoppers "to continue to stringently follow the public health advice."

They wrote: “We have added these antigen tests to our range to add an extra level of reassurance to our customers as they follow that advice."

Chair of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group Professor Philip Nolan then took to Twitter to reply to Lidl's tweet, writing: "Can I get some snake oil with that? It makes for a great salad dressing with a pinch of salt and something acerbic.

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"Stay safe when socialising outdoors over the next few weeks. Small numbers, distance, masks. These antigen tests will not keep you safe."

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Minister Donnelly said that he felt Nolan's comment was unhelpful and that there was a "good chance" antigen tests could go on to have a more important role in the fight against the virus in the future.

He explained: “I don’t think it was a helpful comment, if I’m honest. It is Government policy. I have great respect for Prof Nolan and I have no doubt that his concern was around people using them in the wrong way.

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“I think it is entirely possible that anybody just going into a supermarket and picking up a pack without maybe having had a conversation about the fact that if you get a negative result it really doesn’t necessarily mean you’re negative at all that it could create a certain risk."

Donnelly added: "But I think they are one part of the tool kit we have and I think as the technology gets better and better and the specificity and sensitivity of the tests gets better and better and the usability of them as well gets better and better, I think there is a good chance that as the year progresses and probably through next year they will have a more important role to play."