September 8, 2021 Today there are 15 new cases of Covid-19 in the community. There are 37 people hospitalized, including six in intensive care or in HDU.
A Kiwi scientist and saliva testing expert questions advice given to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who passed him off as uninformed and “groping about saliva testing”.
Dr Anne Wyllie, a researcher at the Yale School of Public Health, was so concerned about the state of saliva testing in New Zealand that she wrote to the Department of Health and Ardern last month.
But his criticism of the Asia Pacific Healthcare Group – which holds the ministry’s contract for saliva testing – has been called “unfounded and not based on fact”, according to APHG consulting clinical microbiologist. and Associate Professor at the University of Otago, James Ussher.
And a spokesperson for Ardern referred to the Prime Minister’s earlier comments about relying on the public health advice she receives.
Saliva testing may be a reliable alternative to the more invasive nasopharyngeal test, but despite repeated ministry recommendations to use it over the past 12 months, it remains infrequently used.
Wyllie has been at the forefront of saliva testing technology, having launched the SalivaDirect test with her team, which gained worldwide attention last year.
In her letter, she said the APHG used testing methods that were not validated by the diagnosis – a claim that the APHG rejected.
She highlighted other concerns about saliva samples collected in an unsupervised manner and ESR test results that “have not reached a level that would be considered acceptable in the United States and other countries for use. public”.
She told the Herald that she remained concerned about the quality of the advice given to Ardern, saying she appeared to be misinformed.
Asked for clarification, Wyllie pointed to remarks made by Ardern on August 26 that saliva tests take as long to process as nasopharyngeal swabs.
Ardern had said: “If [the saliva test] is based on PCR, it takes as long to process as a nasal swab. There are other forms of rapid tests, but they don’t have quite the same level of accuracy as the saliva tests you process as a PCR. There are other forms of rapid tests, but they don’t have quite the same level of accuracy as the saliva tests you process as a PCR. “
But Wyllie said the method used in SalivaDirect could yield a result in about six hours, while Rako Science, a vendor that serves the private sector, including healthcare providers, says its process takes a little longer. three hours.
Wyllie said Ardern’s comments showed “trial and error on saliva tests.”
“It is not clear what she means regarding rapid tests in this context, and [she’s] Perhaps casts doubt on the faster saliva-based PCR methods offered. “
Wyllie told the Herald that the APHG uses a number of different methods, “none of which are really used by other countries in the world.”
“It’s ridiculous that they should be working with labs to replicate methods that have already proven to be robust and used in overseas testing programs.”
But Ussher said the APHG tests had been validated by the diagnosis – although it was more difficult to collect samples, given the low number of Covid in the country – and accredited by International Accreditation NZ against the standard. appropriate international.
Using different methods provided “resilience,” he said.
“All of these tests have been evaluated and found to be as good or better than non-extraction methods such as SalivaDirect.
âWe have extensive experience in the field of diagnostic pathology and a team of nine highly experienced microbiologists and many medical laboratory scientists. “
Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins has said on several occasions that he wants saliva testing in place much sooner.
He said during Question Time on Wednesday that saliva tests were to be available for cross-border and MIQ workers around the beginning of August, but so far only 863 workers had signed up.
âThe indications I had in July were that it would be in place for anyone on a seven-day test cycle around the beginning of August. Obviously that did not happen, and I am disappointed that this did not happen. “
A ministry spokesperson said saliva testing will become an option for more groups over time, including healthcare workers and returnees at MIQ facilities.
The ministry was exploring options for providers other than APHG.
“We are in the process of finalizing a contract with a supplier of saliva testing, and we expect saliva testing to be an option for workers who require weekly testing in order to be able to cross the Auckland border will be available. ‘here there. “