INDIA

Delay in at-home testing deliberate

A medical assistant processes a sample from a rapid antigen test for Covid-19. Picture: Ina FASSBENDER / AFP

The medical regulator has pushed back responsibility for Australia’s go-slow approach to at-home Covid tests on to the federal government, suggesting the setback was a deliberate action until vaccination rates were higher.

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Monday said rapid tests could be approved for at-home use by Christmas.

But that direction has yet to be shared with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

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Speaking with the NCA Newswire, Deputy Secretary John Skerritt said while the regulator was working to that time frame, it was still waiting for the green light to begin the approval process.

Professor John Skerritt has pushed back responsibility of the go-slow of at home testing to the government. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage
Professor John Skerritt has pushed back responsibility of the go-slow of at home testing to the government. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage

“We can‘t formally make an approval decision until we get a signal from government,” Professor Skerritt said.

“They have to make a decision, you know, when is it less of a big deal to start missing some positive cases, because we know these rapid antigen tests are pretty good, but they’re not as good as the gold standard PCR test.”

The TGA boss’s admission indicates the slow adoption of at-home tests was likely engaged to lower the risk of false negatives or individuals hiding positive test results.

“Governments still have to make a decision on… do they want a system in place where every positive rapid test is captured?

“In other words, that the state and territories know as soon as there’s a positive test or not. And those decisions all have to still be made.”

Currently 51.8 per cent of the population aged 16 and over is fully vaccinated.

Asked if the delay in the roll out of at-home tests until vaccination rates in Australia were higher was a deliberate strategy, Professor Skerrit said “correct”.

Professor Skerritt told NCA Newswire the TGA cannot move on rapid testing the government gives them the green light. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Sarah Matray
Professor Skerritt told NCA Newswire the TGA cannot move on rapid testing the government gives them the green light. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Sarah Matray

“If you’ve got someone out there in the community who’s infectious and 80 per cent of people when they’re vaccinated, it’s a hell of a big difference than if you’ve only got 50 per cent vaccinated,” he told NCA Newswire.

But if Australia can reach a higher level of vaccination, then Professor Skerritt argues it will be more acceptable if a positive case is missed here or there.

“Countries like the United Kingdom, England and the rest of the UK have never been able to do the level of contact tracing. So if they miss a number of infections, it’s unfortunate. Whereas Australia has been trying to track it and trace every infection today.”

“Those things become less important if you’re up at 80 per cent.

“The risks for the broader society of someone not doing the right thing become less once you have a higher vaccination rate.”

An at home test as sold on the shelves in the US. Picture: Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP
An at home test as sold on the shelves in the US. Picture: Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP

Rapid antigen testing is already being used in a number of settings across the country, such as in aged care homes and in some quarantine facilities.

They have also been adopted across Britain, Europe and the US.

But it is currently illegal to sell these tests to people for self-testing. Professor Skerritt said the TGA was looking at how modifications could be made to make them more suitable for self use.

“The ones we have currently approved in Australia are designed for professional use,” he said.

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