COVID rapid antigen tests are ‘unreliable,’ says medical experts, studies

COVID rapid antigen tests are ‘unreliable,’ says medical experts, studies

British Columbia’s Interior Health (IH) has completely withdrawn COVID rapid antigen tests (RAT) from its facilities, citing an internal memo that called them unreliable.

“As such COVID-19 RAT testing can no longer be used to direct clinical care or infection prevention and control measures,” it said January 8, “and must be discontinued immediately in Interior Health affiliated emergency rooms, hospitals, long-term care facilities [and] outpatient settings.”

Dr. Brian Conway, the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre’s medical director, acknowledged the PCR test is far more accurate. “[The PCR] test […] we have always known is more sensitive and more reliable,” he said.

At the end of 2021, the Trudeau Liberals purchased rapid antigen tests in bulk to aid provinces in their pandemic response. However, fewer and fewer people have used them to test for the respiratory virus.

In January 2022, Canadians raised concerns about the probability of false-positive results in rapid antigen tests.

Researchers from the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management uncovered false positives from 462 of 1,103 rapid antigen tests that had data from a PCR test to compare against.

They published their peer-reviewed findings in The Journal of the American Medical Association compiled from over 537 workplaces between January and October 2021 that attribute the false positives to probable issues from the manufacture.  

In 2021 and 2022, the Trudeau Liberals purchased 404 million rapid tests imported from China by BTNX on 15 contracts worth $2 billion, courtesy of then-Health Ministers Patty Hajdu and Duclos.

Parliament on March 4, 2022 passed Bill C-10 An Act Respecting Measures Related To Covid-19 to spend $2.5 billion on test kits, reported Blacklock’s Reporter. “This funding is critical to enable the Government of Canada to respond to significant demands,” Duclos wrote to Parliament.

BTNX — Canada’s leading rapid test supplier during the pandemic — is a Toronto-based enterprise that reportedly deleted dozens of samples used in a study they submitted to Health Canada.

Leading medical researchers called their deletions “unethical” and potentially “dangerous” as they could not accurately detect the virus in users — producing many false-negative results. In the coming months, Parliament stopped distributing rapid tests to provinces and territories, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.

Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer, told reporters on June 6, 2022, that she is “not personally involved in the exact amounts being provided to provinces and territories.” Asked why the distribution ceased, Tam said: “Well I think rapid tests do play a role but of course, primary prevention is the best.”

As of last March 21, the federal government warehoused 93 million rapid tests from a pool of $5 billion since the pandemic began. 

By last July 25, Health Canada sat on over 90 million tests, according to Health Canada. At this time, the agency had roughly 39 million in excess — enough supply to give Canadians eight COVID tests each. 

“In practice, offering tests with less than eight to 12 months of shelf life may present challenges,” wrote staff in a memo to the deputy health minister.

“Acknowledging the volumes of tests in play and the challenge of divesting such quantities over a time-bound period, it is expected that disposal of expired tests would be required,” it said.

Health Canada successfully donated some COVID tests to non-profits, public institutions and charities, but failed to ship or resell the bulk of them abroad or to manufacturers.

Last December, they admitted the BTNX device is among the “less-sensitive tests” but confirmed there are “no plans to reassess the licensure of this medical device.” 

Conway said despite their inaccuracies, the rapid tests still have “huge value.”

“Huge value, huge value,” he told Global News. “We’re not diagnosing much of the COVID that is being transmitted in the community.”

“If you’re at home [and] you have symptoms [and] you test positive on a rapid test — you have COVID … we’re going to address that appropriately,” said the expert.

When asked about their usefulness in 2022, Tam said, “I think rapid tests can potentially change people’s behaviour.”

“If they get a positive test although as we all know a negative test doesn’t mean you do not have it,” she added.

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