What do people think of antigen tests?


They give quick results. They are not expensive. And they’re relatively easy to use. But the arrival of rapid antigen tests on supermarket shelves last Friday was not without controversy.

Lidl stores sell their Covid-19 test kits for € 24.99 for a box of five. NPHET has warned consumers not to use them, with Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan noting that he is very concerned that they will “falsely reassure people.”

NPHET’s Professor Philip Nolan, meanwhile, traded beards on Twitter with Harvard epidemiologist Professor Michael Mina, saying his comments on “snake oil” “are more confusing.”

Today Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said they were “not a quick fix.” But he acknowledged that they are “one of the tools” that we can use to deal with the spread of Covid-19.

Although they are less accurate than PCR tests, they will find the virus in most people who have symptoms. But, in some cases, antigen tests may fail to detect that someone is a carrier of the virus, potentially giving false confidence.

A review of antigen tests found that they correctly identified Covid-19 infections in around 72% of people with symptoms and 58% of people without symptoms. PCR tests, on the other hand, correctly identified more than 95% of all infections.

Lidl sold 10,000 test kits on the first day they released them. So there is clearly a demand for them.

This morning, Prime Time traveled to Bray, Co Wicklow to gauge public opinion on the test kits. We have installed a mobile test unit on the seafront promenade.

After I tested myself and got a negative result, we asked passers-by to try the test kit.

Most people were following the on-air debate about the merits and flaws of testing.

“Once you’ve read the instructions correctly you can see it’s pretty straightforward and you get your instant reading,” a woman told Prime Time.

“I think the majority of people will be sane about this and use them correctly.”

The convenience of being able to test yourself anywhere, anytime is a key selling point.

“You can do it at home. You can do it in your car. If you go to a party or something like that, you get everyone tested,” one man said.

Prime Time pop-up test on the Bray seafront

He said testing can give people working close to each other in retail environments some peace of mind and confidence.

Another man criticized other countries in Europe giving out antigen tests for free, while Irish consumers have to pay for them in a supermarket.

He added that if he tested positive on any of the Lidl tests, he would self-isolate and contact his GP immediately.

Prime Time does not claim that the Bray waterfront trial was a science experiment. It was just trying to see if people would change their behavior after taking the test.

Of the seven tests we performed, six returned negative. There was an invalid reading.

Despite the overall reassuring results, people were aware of the limitations of these tests. One woman said their availability in supermarkets was a welcome development, but people still needed to be careful.

“You still have to take the measures that are advised by the government,” she said.

The woman, who is in her early 30s, admitted that she was well in the pecking order when it came to getting the vaccine.

“If the people around me are vaccinated, I think having access to these tests would make me feel more comfortable around other people – and I would feel less anxious.”

Manufactured by Chinese company Boson, the Lidl test kit is one of 16 antigen tests approved for use by the EU’s health safety committee in February. It is already in use in a number of EU Member States.

Speaking to Morning Ireland on Monday, Lidl Ireland CEO JP Scally said his customers and the general public should be convinced to use the tests appropriately and to continue to take all necessary public health measures by at the same time as the antigen tests.

The debate over rapid antigen testing is by no means new to the life of this pandemic. Testing is not a silver bullet, but its arrival on our supermarket shelves has undoubtedly injected new urgency into the debate over its use.

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