Mon | Oct 26, 2020

Rapid COVID tests get green light

Published:Friday | September 18, 2020 | 12:17 AMMark Titus/Gleaner Writer
United States Ambassador Donald Tapia (left) listens as Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton makes a point during a tour and handover ceremony at the National Public Health Laboratory on Slipe Pen Road, Kingston, on July 16. Looking on are Mi
United States Ambassador Donald Tapia (left) listens as Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton makes a point during a tour and handover ceremony at the National Public Health Laboratory on Slipe Pen Road, Kingston, on July 16. Looking on are Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith (second left) and Dr Michelle Hamilton, director of the lab. New COVID-19 testing machines and kits were handed over by the Internationa Atomic Energy Agency.

Jamaica is set to introduce rapid antigen testing that will have a faster turnaround in results than the model originally backed by the Government.

Also called F200, the COVID-19 antigen testing will come on stream in October.

However, the new procedure, which produces results in half an hour, will not be a whole-scale replacement for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which have been widely used locally since the emergence of the virus in March.

Director of the National Laboratory Services, Dr Michelle Hamilton, said that while both procedures detect infection, the PCR test detects the genetic material of the virus while the antigen regime identifies proteins that the virus produces.

“Both of these tests give a very good result. They have high specificity, so if they are positive, then we have confidence in the fact that this test can predict the positive cases,” she said at a press briefing on Thursday evening.

The Ministry of Health & Wellness announced five additional COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, moving the tally to 51. Two of them were previously under investigation.

Four other deaths are now being probed, increasing the total to seven.

The country also recorded 210 new infections, bringing the overall figure to 4,374 cases, with 3,016 active.

Antigen tests are “very simple and very cost effective”, Hamilton said, but will still require specialised training and daily reporting to the Ministry of Health & Wellness.

The Pan American Health Organization is assisting with the procurement process of 80,000 tests that will arrive in Jamaica in four weeks.

The product is expected to be rolled out at major health facilities first but will only be approved for use in symptomatic patients.

The US Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use of the new test in August.

Proponents argue that it could be a game changer in the industry, but others are concerned that the comparatively lower level of sensitivity could result in infectious persons being missed and result in unforeseen outbreaks.