Coronavirus rapid test importers disappointed, gifting 20,000 tests abroad

COVID-19 rapid test.
COVID-19 rapid test. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Businessmen Tarvi Olbrei, Parvel Pruunsild and Alari Aho, who had gifted 50,000 coronavirus rapid tests to the state, say they are disappointed by the duplicity of both the Health Board and Estonian politicians and will be gifting the 20,000 remaining rapid antibody tests still in their possession abroad instead.

In a joint statement, the three businessmen said that they don't understand a statement issued by the Estonian Society of Family Physicians (EPS) last Friday according to which the rapid tests aren't precise or fit for use. The statement had also been signed by the Estonian Society for Laboratory Medicine (ELMÜ) and the Estonian Society for Infectious Diseases (EIS).

The businessmen said that the rapid tests they imported were certified in the European Union and that the tests' sensitivity and specificity levels met requirements for the determination of "long-term antibodies," i.e. more than 14 days after a suspected infection.

"We as the donors have never claimed that these tests could be used for at-home testing, and we have no grounds to do so either," Olbrei, Pruunsild and Aho wrote. "Our only objective when making this decision in April was that Estonia could assess the prevalence of the [COVID-19] virus and, based on this, perhaps reach a decision sooner regarding the conclusion of the emergency situation — every delayed week meant thousands of unemployed. We have distributed tests for free to various institutions that have expressed an interest in them, and they have been accepted with gratitude."

According to the businessmen, the Health Board and the State Agency of Medicines have unexpectedly changed their positions, and the administration of rapid tests has been declared a lab service, for which a separate license is needed. The Health Board also filed a complaint with the holder of the tests' certification in Europe in which it sought arguments for rejecting the donation. The letter cited an interest in propaganda on the part of populist Estonian politicians in connection with upcoming elections as the reason the tests were donated.

"Writing such a letter clearly demonstrated to us that the Health Board seriously intended for these tests not to be used in Estonia," the businessmen continued. "An email was also sent out via the family physicians' mailing list according to which 'these tests were imported for monetary reasons.' In other words, a nice plot twist that would have been fitting for the British TV series 'Yes Minister.'"

All three men found themselves asking themselves why they were putting up with this.

"As the tests are only good for a certain period of time and it is clear that state authorities and doctors do not want to permit rapid tests, the tests run the risk of simply expiring and becoming unusable, which is why we are gifting the 20,000 tests still in our possession abroad, and do not intend to comment any further on the matter," Olbrei, Pruunsild and Aho said Tuesday.

"What did we learn from this? That one should still come to the aid of the state, but this might not be so easy to do even despite the best of intentions," they added. "It may happen that you end up the target of accusations of political and other personal gains."

The Estonian government ordered the Health Board to begin using rapid tests last Monday.

In a joint statement issued last Friday, the ELMÜ, EIS and EPS said that the government's decision to begin using rapid SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests was not medically justified, due to which it also wouldn't be possible to deduce based on test results whether an individual was ill, had been infected with the disease or was healthy.

"In the current situation, it is very important that we all operate based on uniform information based on expert opinions and not populist decisions," the statement read. "Rapid SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests, and even antibody tests performed in labs, do not yet answer the question of whether sufficient immunity has been achieved."

In an interview with ERR, Health Board Director General Merike Jürilo said that antibody tests are hindsight.

"We find out that someone has been infected," Jürilo said. "These tests are appropriate for conducting seroepidemiological studies, in order to assess the spread of a disease in society. Perhaps people themselves are interested in whether or not they have been infected."

There are currently no trustworthy rapid tests available for at-home use.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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