Rapid Antigen Tests…Game changer or more hype?
We have been fielding a lot of calls requesting the new Rapid Antigen Tests so widely reported on and touted by the CDC as a “game changer”.
Because of the CDC’s endorsement and the White House announcement that they intend to buy 150 million of them with $750 Million of our tax dollars its expected people would want to know.
A cheap, accurate test that produces rapid results has potential to restore some level of normalcy to our lives and even save lives.
So is this new Rapid Antigen Test for COVID-19 test the answer to our hopes? We’ve been here before though and if there is anything to be learned from our rush to embrace tests and test technologies that have been touted by manufacturers as accurate, reliable fast tests it’s that manufacturers are in business to make money and concerns about the quality of their tests in real world application are secondary to shareholder gains.
Abbot is the most heralded of testing companies and regardless of the abject failure of their previous tests to measure up to the hype, here we are again, excitedly throwing nearly a billion dollars to them before this latest test has earned or proven anything.
Why Abbot has been given a pass when any other company would surely lose luster after the failure of their ID NOW Test is not something I can explain but it should give us- the broader public- pause before we anoint their latest test as our savior.
The good news though is that there are other companies with better track records producing Rapid Antigen Tests for the detection of COVID-19. Some are domestic products and others are produced in countries such as South Korea where COVID-19 Testing has been going on for nearly a year, and test accuracy among the products and companies is often better than those we’ve had in the US.
How good are Rapid Antigen Tests for the detection of COVID-19?
As a technology Antigen Tests are a B+ grade assay compared to the gold standard PCR tests that average 99% accuracy. A rapid test simply cannot compete with a lab test that amplifies RNA, is analyzed on high-tech equipment operated by a scientist in a lab environment, which is what a PCR test is. Compared to a Rapid Antibody Test which is akin to flipping a coin with about 55% accuracy the Antigen test though is a massive improvement.
Though you won’t find a Rapid Test Manufacturer touting anything less than 95% accuracy and 99% sensitivity the fact is that their self-reported data will not translate to real-world use.
So where does that leave us?
Rapid Antigen Tests for the detection of COVID-19 will likely open up stadiums, flights to Hawaii and myriad other now restricted places and types of gatherings. They are accurate enough that for those of us that are not in a high-risk group an Antigen test is as advertised.
If I think I’ve been exposed to COVID-19 should I get a Rapid Antigen Test?
I would recommend getting a PCR test over a Rapid Antigen Test unless they are unavailable or you cannot wait 24-48 hours for the PCR results because if your test produces a false negative you are at risk and would be putting those around you at risk too.
Is a Rapid Antigen Test the right product for testing employees in the workplace? That depends on why you are testing. If there is a suspected breakout or exposure a PCR test is far and away the better option because if an employee is infected at work they can file a Workers Comp claim and even sue for damages. Being as close to 100% certain whether you have any infected employees is far more prudent.
If you are testing proactively –not because of a suspected breakout or exposure- a Rapid Antigen Test for the detection of COVID-19 is a great option. Same day results and a lower price point make this test the right product for your needs. The same is true if you are conducting frequent or ongoing testing of your staff. Accuracy measures increase as people are tested more often.
For settings such as studios or production houses where people are creating media content daily testing is mandatory and the Rapid Antigen Test is the perfect product. Same with testing live audiences or attendees at any entertainment event.
Is the Rapid Antigen Test our Savior?
Not quite. This test technology will open up a good portion of businesses and free up many places and types of public interaction so the profound impact on our lives cannot be understated. Still, accepting that 1-3 of twenty people tested may be infected is not ideal, leaving work to be done either on the test accuracy of the products already here or with another technology that can solve for our global needs.