DOH: Antigen tests can’t be used for COVID-19 screening 'til proven effective in pilot test

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 14 2020 06:20 PM

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MANILA — The Department of Health explained on Wednesday that COVID-19 antigen test kits cannot be used to screen asymptomatic people yet until initial tests show it is effective.

In a briefing, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said the RT-PCR test remains to be the "gold standard" in COVID-19 testing. 

“Ang RT-PCR (reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction), siya 'yung gold standard natin kasi kahit mga pre-symptomatic pa lang, 'yung mga magsho-show pa lang ng symptoms nakaka-capture na ng PCR as against antigen test,” she said.

(The RT-PCR is the gold standard because even for pre-symptomatic people or those who have yet to have symptoms, the PCR is able to capture that as against the antigen test.)

Vergeire explained that the antigen test is mostly effective for people who already have symptoms, specifically within the first 5 days of their onset. She said this is because the viral load of the patient is at the highest level during this time.

“Kaya sinabi ng Health Technology Assessment Council natin, bawal natin itong (antigen test) gamitin for screening muna,” she said. 

“Kailangan natin makita muna ano ang magiging resulta ng Baguio pilot study para makita natin if it’s really appropriate for us to use the antigen test para sa mga walang sintomas at walang exposure.”

(That is why the Health Technology Assessment Council said the antigen test cannot be used yet for screening. We need to see first the results of the Baguio pilot study to see if it’s really appropriate for us to use the antigen test for those without symptoms and without exposure.)

Vergeire said this after being asked about a local government unit - other than Baguio City - using antigen test kits. She did not specifically address if the LGU would be asked to stop using the test.

Back in September, the Philippine government’s plan to use antigen tests for border screening was halted after the World Health Organization issued guidelines on its use. The WHO specifically said it is not to be used for screening in airports and other points of entry because the test is not as accurate.

Because of this, the release of the DOH omnibus guidelines on testing and other COVID-19 measures was also delayed. To address the issue, the government said it would first try the antigen test kits in Baguio as part of a pilot study.

Vergeire said they are also still waiting for the Office of the President’s decision on their request for a price cap on the prices of PCR and other tests.