NPHET’s opposition to the use of antigen testing is paternalistic and old-fashioned according to an Oxford professor of medicine.
The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Tony Holohan will today go before the Oireachtas Transport Committee to explain his opposition to the use of antigen testing.
Dr Holohan and a number of other NPHET members have continuously objected to the widespread use of antigen testing in Ireland.
Their stance comes in spite of the findings of the Government-ordered Ferguson Report which recommended the introduction of antigen tests to complement Ireland’s use of the standard PCR test.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Oxford University Professor Tim Peto said findings that antigen tests are only around 50% effective have led to a misunderstanding of what they are designed to do.
“They are designed to test for infectiousness as in, are you going to pass it on to someone else today,” he said
“PCR tests are telling you whether you have had the disease in the last week or two as well as whether you have got it now so when you compare Lateral Flow Tests (antigen tests) to PCR, you would only expect 50% to be positive so I think there is a misunderstanding.”
He said his department believes antigen tests are better than PCR when it comes to finding out whether people are currently infectious.
Asked whether Irish authorities’ opposition to antigen testing is ‘paternalistic and a little bit old fashioned’ he said: “I completely agree.”
“I think we should be trusting people to use them in a responsible way and let them decide,” he said. “People are responsible.”
He said antigen tests are more effective than PCR when it comes to preventing transmission during air travel.
“Obviously, it is controversial because people have to have confidence in what they are doing but I think if you want to get on a plane and you want to know whether you are infectious at that moment then a Lateral Flow Test done shortly before you get on a plane is a very good test,” he said.
“If you go with a PCR test, because it takes a day or two to get a result, then by the time you get a result back, it might already be an out-of-date test.
“So, there is a problem with relying on a PCR test two days before.”
Professor Peto said antigen testing is now being “very widely used” in the UK.
“For instance, in schools, children are being asked, voluntarily of course, to test twice a week – maybe at home to see if they are infectious or not and if you are you stay at home,” he said. “So that has been very popular.
“Then, round the country, you can easily get these tests. They are free and people use them when they are anxious about whether they are positive or not.
“So, it is a very good way of reassuring yourself, if you are worried about being positive and infectious before you see somebody, to test yourself.
“I think they are causing people a lot of happiness and you get a feeling of empowerment and control of your illness – it is very good.”
NPHET members have also raised concern that people may misuse the tests or draw the wrong conclusions from a negative result.
Professor Leto said the research does not back up that argument.
“There have been a lot of studies beginning to come up saying that isn’t the case and that people who test themselves are responsible,” he said.
“That is why they test themselves and they are responsible when they get the results.
“It is rather similar to cycle helmets. People used to say that wearing cycle helmets makes you more dangerous but that’s not the case. So, this is a fear that probably isn’t true.”
The two members of the panel involved in the Ferguson report that refused to back its findings were State officials, while the three who backed it were independent university professors.
You can listen back to Professor Peto here: