'They help society take responsibility' - Expert defends supermarket antigen tests

A professor of immunovirology has said antigen tests 'have a great place in helping society' take...
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

10.54 11 May 2021

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'They help society take respon...

'They help society take responsibility' - Expert defends supermarket antigen tests

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

10.54 11 May 2021

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A professor of immunovirology has said antigen tests 'have a great place in helping society' take responsibility for its health.

Liam Fanning was responding to comments from Professor Philip Nolan, chairman of the Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group and member of NPHET.

Prof Nolan hit out at retailer Lidl, which is selling the tests in packs of five for €24.99.


He suggested: 'Can I get some snake oil with that? It makes for a great salad dressing with a pinch of salt and something acerbic... These antigen tests will not keep you safe.'

But Prof Fanning, who is a professor of immunovirology at UCC, told Newstalk Breakfast he disagrees.

"I think that comment was very unfortunate - these tests are very good at picking up infectiousness, in other words those individuals who have a high amount of virus and likely to pass it on.

"I think that comment was not appropriate given the fact that these are shown to have about a 98.3% pick up on positive cases, and 100% with regard to those that are truly negative.

"I think these antigen tests have a great place in helping society take responsibility.

"This is about ownership of ones health and ones protection from passing on infection.

"I don't understand the reluctance, they've been used in Europe for a long time - they're another tool in the army.

"We have a very educated population at this stage... I think the Irish people are more educated than we've ever been with regard to immunology, virology, viruses and tests.

"These antigen tests are about infectiousness - how infectious am I - it's not about comparing it to PCR, they're not the same as PCR."

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan has also said people should not use shop-bought COVID testing kits.

While Professor Luke O'Neill has said it is important people do not think antigen tests being sold in Lidl are 'bulletproof'.

But he believes it is a good thing the supermarket is selling them - suggesting the HSE and Government should have organised the rollout of rapid testing more effectively.

Vaccines for younger age groups

While Prof Fanning also said vaccines should be used in younger age groups.

"Currently we see in Britain that AstraZeneca can be used for anybody over 30 - I think it would be a good move by the Government and NIAC to approve that here.

"J&J [Johnson & Johnson] similarly, approve it for younger age groups outside of those over 50 at the moment would be a welcome development.

"Considering we're going to be getting very large quantities of the J&J vaccine in June, I think it would be a sensible move.

"We can't countenance even one single dose of these vaccines going to waste."

Prof Fanning said he believes the advice will change.

"I suspect the guidance will change when push comes to shove with respect to J&J.

"And I think they will move down cautiously to the over-40s and when they're done then they'll move down cautiously to the over-30s.

"And if you look at the death rates once you hit under-40, they're quite similar between the under-40s, under-30s and those in their 20s".

And on suggestions of possibly spacing out vaccine doses further, he said extending the second dose can be done - but carefully.

"The ECDC have given guidelines on that, that the RNA vaccines can be spread out to six weeks within the guidelines of that - and that provides very good protection.

"I would be a little bit apprehensive about going beyond that much, beyond eight weeks, because we have no data on the long-term establishment of immune memory after spreading the gap beyond what was authorised.

"We don't want to be in the worst of all worlds where we've a partially vaccinated population, with reasonable coverage, then learning that perhaps we're not getting the protection from some variants."

Main image: A Boson Biotech Covid-19 antigen test is seen outside a Lidl shop in Drumcondra in Dublin. Picture by: Sam Boal /

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