Tag: Michael Mina

How To Prevent Another Lockdown

Over the last few weeks, primary and secondary schools have been reopening. In the coming weeks, many teenagers will also go off to universities. It has been estimated that three children in a thousand will walk into the classroom with COVID-19. And no one will know until the school has to be closed on account of an outbreak.

This is a risk that affects your children. And in turn, this becomes a risk to many of the older people in their lives, including you and your loved ones.

Perhaps, as they have done so far, the government will continue to respond to these outbreaks with local lockdowns or increased restrictions on social gatherings outside of educational institutions. 

But what about prevention?

A rising number of immunologists have been excited to discover that rapid tests can provide precisely this.

A rapid test tells you whether you have COVID-19 in under 15 minutes and can be done by you at home. 

Simply, take a nasal swab. Place it in the test tube and add the buffer solution. Then, place the strip in the solution and wait 15 minutes for your results.

By testing yourself and your family regularly, you will be made aware of your infection-status as soon as possible, regardless of whether you have symptoms. It is precisely this capability which could make rapid testing one of the most effective tools that we have to mitigate the dangers of the COVID-19 virus.

But, I hear you say, rapid tests are inaccurate, right?

Well, think about it like this. Before you become infectious, you need to have a certain amount of viral material – that’s the stuff of the virus, all its replications – in your body. In other words, you need to pass a certain threshold before other people can catch the virus from you. 

Some researchers were worried about rapid testing because it couldn’t detect the smaller amounts of the virus, the amounts below that threshold. Soon, however, they realised that it reliably detected those amounts above the threshold. Put simply, if you’re infectious, a rapid test will give you a positive result.

So, a rapid test tells us exactly what we need to know. But the NHS already provides accurate tests, so why do we need rapid tests? 

You can probably guess the answer if you’ve already taken an NHS test: you have to wait at least 48 hours for your results. Even the new tests, lauded for their speed, take 90 minutes and require you to travel to an NHS drive-through centre. If you saw our last blog, you’ll also know that this system is crumbling. A rapid test, however, can be conducted wherever you are and delivers results in just 15 minutes. 

So, rapid testing is convenient, easy-to-use and gives precisely the results that we need. OK, but what am I asking you to do?

First, share this blog post with colleagues, friends and family members. Dispelling the myths and misconceptions around rapid testing is an essential first step.

Then, I urge you to use whatever influence you have to call on the government and the Prime Minister to consider daily rapid testing for all schools, colleges and universities in order to prevent further lockdowns and restrictions. We must act now to ensure the health and stability of Britain.

Rapid Testing and COVID-19: Why Are We Being So Sensitive?

As all of us absorb some of the more troubling aspects of the recent government announcements, we might not be able to avoid a sense of déjà vu. Just like at the end of March, the government is making decisions very quickly that will have a sizable effect the British public. Even more so, the government is pursuing the same line of response that they pursued back in March, leading some to question how far we have really come in our understanding of how to deal with the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the last few weeks, however, there have been a number of breakthroughs in the scientific community. These revelations concern the sensitivity of rapid testing, a topic that has been hotly debated in the months since lockdown began. For many, the fact that rapid tests were unable to detect antibodies and viral material below a certain threshold was a fatal flaw, further confirming the predominant use of PCR testing which can detect below this threshold.  

The problem lies in the fact that PCR tests – like those available on the NHS – take at least 48 hours to return a result. Given that the government advises those with symptoms to stay at home, this might mean that the patient misses two days of work at the least, which, as infections rise again, could threaten the financial stability of those already hit hard by the pandemic. Similarly, those interested in travelling might have to postpone or even cancel their plans if they experience symptoms at an inopportune time. Clearly, there is an incentive here for Britons to simply take their chances, to keep functioning in ignorance by not applying for a test or to apply for a test but make no adjustments to their behaviour while they wait for the results. In both cases, the delay inherent in PCR testing poses a problem for mitigating infection rates.

But, since rapid tests are not as sensitive as PCR tests, we have no other option but to continue with this line of response, right?

Well, Harvard immunologist Dr. Michael Mina has a strange yet simple answer (which he lays out clearly and concisely in a recent New York Times article): what if rapid tests are just insensitive enough to miss non-contagious or non-immune individuals who nevertheless have some tiny amount of viral material or antibodies? Put another way, what if a positive result from a rapid test gives us all the information that actually we care about: are we infectious/immune or not? 

Dr. Mina would answer in the affirmative. He does not dispute that rapid tests are less sensitive but still holds that they are more useful that PCR tests, since we are not interested in detecting any and all amounts of viral material or antibodies but only those amounts which make a patient contagious or presently immune. So, why are we being so sensitive?  Rapid testing offers the British public the power to make informed decisions at the pace of their lives. PCR testing interrupts their lives to give them information that they don’t need.

If you are interested in purchasing a rapid test, take a look at our online shop and our eBay page.

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