Michael Staines
Michael Staines

08.37 17 Jun 2021


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The National Public Health Emergency Team’s attitude to antigen testing is vague and confused, according DCU Health Professor Anthony Staines.

The Chief Medical Officer yesterday defended NPHET’s opposition to the use of the rapid tests to aid the reopening of international travel.

Appearing before Oireachtas Transport Committee, Dr Tony Holohan said the tests should not be used as a 'green light' to engage in activities and ignore other public health measures.

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He said there was not enough evidence yet to support the widespread use of antigen testing to facilitate international travel.

NPHET attitude to rapid antigen testing vague and confused - Prof Anthony Staines

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On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Professor Staines said NPHETs views on antigen testing are “confused because they are not being clear enough about what it is used for.”

“They are being vague about what it is that antigen tests are used for,” he said. “Antigen tests have value but they have value in some specific ways and specific circumstances.

“We are using antigen tests right now, with pretty good effect, in some industrial settings like meat processing plants.

“We could use antigen testing in the aircraft sector. So, we test everybody at the airport; we do it as part of security screening,

“The airport seems confident it has the space to do it and that avoids a situation where you are on an aircraft with somebody spreading virus around at high levels which is a dangerous situation.

“There have been a couple of significant aircraft outbreaks of this virus. So again, that helps us open up things.”

Philip Nolan Professor Philip Nolan at the Department of Health, 31-03-2021. Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews

Professor Staines also questioned the credentials of key NPHET officials for making judgements on the effectiveness of the tests for travel – pointing out that the Modelling Advisory Group chair Professor Philip Nolan is “not an epidemiologist.”

“Philip is a muscle physiologist,” he said. “Philip is not an infectious disease expert; he is not an epidemiologist.

“He is a muscle physiologist. These ideas have been thought about – certainly rapid testing for viruses has been thought about – in the transport sector for quite a few years. This is not novel.”

Ferguson Report

It was also revealed at yesterday’s Oireachtas hearing that NPHET had never discussed the Government-ordered Ferguson Report which recommended the introduction of antigen tests to complement Ireland’s use of the standard PCR test.

The Oireachtas Transport Committee last week heard arguments from Harvard Medical Professor Dr Michael Mina that antigen testing is more effective than PCR testing for international travel.

On The Pat Kenny Show, Dr Mina warned public health doctor’s ‘paternalistic’ attitude to antigen testing had robbed us of an “extremely powerful” tool during a global pandemic.

On Newstalk Breakfast yesterday, Oxford University Professor Tim Peto agreed that NPHET’s stance was paternalistic and old fashioned.

You can listen back to Professor Staines here:

NPHET attitude to rapid antigen testing vague and confused - Prof Anthony Staines

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