Government pressures Health Board to allow use of rapid antibody tests

The government is pressuring the Health Board to allow rapid antibody tests to detect coronavirus (COVID-19) to be sold on the market. The Health Board said it cannot make the decision and does not believe reliable tests exist.

Since May, 50,000 rapid antibody tests for professional use have been donated to the government which expire in September. The government wants these to be accessible to ordinary people and is pressuring the Health Board to allow them for general use.

The tests were donated by entrepreneurs from Tartu which included supporters of the coalition party Isamaa. Eesti Ekspress reported they were produced by the South Korean biotechnology company SD Biosensor and reportedly cost €420,000.

The Health Board believes the tests are unreliable, not intended for home use and that better quality tests are being developed. 

Merike Jürilo, head of the Health Board, on Thursday evening, said: "There are no reliable reliable tests for home use on the European market yet." Authorization for their retail must also be granted by the European Union Medicines Agency and the Health Board cannot grant permission themselves.

The government disagrees with the Heath Board and Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) believes rapid tests - not just the donated tests - should be widely available. He said there are suitable solutions for home testing on the market.

He said such tests have been used in studies by the Health Board and the lead professor of the government's scientific council Irja Lutsar's assessment was the test works within the confidence intervals that exist.

"Now the question of whether to sell them or whether to allow them in public pharmacies, the logic here now, is that it is important to make them available, they are made by professional healthcare for professionals, because these rapid tests are available for use by professionals. Personally, I think the more opportunities for people to do them, the better," he said.

Jürilo said the rapid tests, which work by picking your finger, are not always reliable and can provide false positives and negatives. Reliability is very important, so hasty decisions should not be made, she said.

Head of the emergency department of the Health Board Martin Kadai echoed Jürilo's words.

"Such tests are not yet approved in the EU, their reliability is very doubtful. The question of their reliability and sensitivity is always one of the most important questions. If it is below 80%, then it makes no sense to use them."

He added: "When it is established that such quick home testing is reliable enough, then, of course, it will be immediately released to the market. It is clear that people want to do this on their own at home, but, unfortunately, there is no such opportunity yet. "

Reinsalu said the government decided on Thursday to make these tests widely available and if they cannot be used by the public they can be used by professional medical professionals, for example, at airports and ports.

"Step by step, the Health Board must implement these decisions," says Reinsalu. 

"What the government thought was reasonable yesterday was that it is possible to undertake rapid testing in institutions, to increase their availability with family doctors and occupational health doctors, including at the port and airport, but people should have the opportunity to be tested publicly where there is an interest."

Jürilo said there is no need to test each person to get a general idea of ​​the disease among the population. This can be determined by other methods and such studies are ongoing.

Government not in agreement

However, the government is not united in its position. Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Center) agrees there are no tests suitable for home use on the market yet.

"Even with the best of intentions, there really isn't a home-based, decent, reliable test on the market. It will definitely come at some point, it's a matter of time," said Kiik to ERR on friday. 

"All of the so-called rapid tests are intended for use by healthcare professionals. This presupposes that the person goes to a particular healthcare provider's medicine, unfortunately, there is no test for home use on the European market."

He denied there was pressure on the government to use the tests before the expiration date.

Kiik said the government will continue the discussion next week on which coronavirus testing points they will allow for the possibility of antibody testing.

Eesti Ekspress wrote Reinsalu has been pushing for mass testing and introducing quick tests in Estonia for several months. In April Reinsalu and Kiik clashed over the same topic. Reinsalu had an extensive list of countries and tests put together by diplomats: What is available, what is for sale, what is certified. 

But, Kiik and the Health Board argued these rapid tests should not be used in Estonia.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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