As the priorities of the COVID-19 pandemic response have shifted from testing to vaccination, you may wonder, why implement testing at all? First, we are not completely sure how effective the vaccines are, especially with new variants. We are also unsure about how many other variants and types will emerge in the months and years to come. Furthermore, not everyone is eligible or interested in getting vaccinated. Some individuals cannot receive the vaccine due to health reasons, others are choosing not to get vaccinated due to moral and religious reasons, leaving a certain percentage of the population unvaccinated.
Rapid testing, also known as antigen testing, can help to mitigate these unknowns and provide us with more tools in our toolbox to manage future outbreaks and help us return to a state of ‘normal’ faster because testing will continue to remain vitally important for a long time to come. Implementing testing into the workplace will provide peace of mind and allow workspaces and communities to strive to be virus-free zones more efficiently and effectively.
What is Antigen Testing?
An antigen itself is composed of proteins, peptides, and polysaccharides. Any substance that induces the immune system to produce antibodies against it is called an antigen. Antigens contain distinct sites on their surface, called epitopes or antigenic determinants. Antibodies generated against an antigen recognize and interact with specific epitopes via antigen-binding sites to trigger an immune response. An antigen test is used to detect these proteins and provide a “yes/no” answer about the presence of a pathogen in a sample1. Common antigen tests include streptococcal, influenza, and malaria.
Antigen Testing for COVID-19
COVID-19 antigen tests, often referred to as rapid tests, detect proteins on or in the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Antigen tests tend to be highly specific but are typically less sensitive than molecular (PCR) tests that provide results in less than an hour and at a lower cost in comparison to PCR tests. Most of the currently authorized antigen tests are point-of-care (POC) tests which use lateral flow technology, but there are some tests approved for over-the-counter use as well.
There are a variety of antigen tests available on the market, with key differences between instrumentation and workflow. One key difference is the how the results are displayed.
- Some tests, such as the Abbott Panbio™ are visually read and require interpretation, similar to a pregnancy test, they display a line to indicate if the test is negative or positive.
- Other tests, such as the Quidel Sofia require less interpretation, as the analyzer displays the test result on the monitor. The advantage of this instrumented test is that it provides integrated data management which allows for result traceability in addition to the easy result read out.
What are the Benefits of Antigen Testing?
Rapid antigen tests aim to identify COVID-19 infection in people with or without COVID-19 symptoms – this will vary by the brand of test and what it has been approved for by Health Canada. They are what most people think of when they think of a screening-style testing strategy.
Generally, the benefits of using antigen testing in a screening testing strategy are:
- They are portable and can be used wherever the people to be tested are (point-of-care).
- They are easy to perform, with a minimal amount of extra equipment, complicated preparation steps, or extensive training.
- They are less expensive than standard laboratory tests or mobile PCR tests, allowing you to screen more people for the same budget.
- They do not require a specialist operator or setting.
- They provide results while you wait – typically within about 15 minutes and an experienced operator can run more than 1 test at once.
Why Implement Testing Programs?
Testing programs are and will remain critical in enabling everyone to get back to a more ‘normal’ way of life. Rapid antigen tests provide the ability to identify a SARS-CoV-2 infection quickly, economically, and accurately. This is critical to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and prevent people from spreading the virus unknowingly. Testing can also provide further data for researchers about the efficacy of the current vaccines.
Create an environment where people can go to work or school safely
Allow return of employees, students without massively reducing density, shift work, etc.
Massively increase the scale of testing and contact tracing to capture asymptomatic cases
Enable data capture to make effective decisions and perform research on COVID-19 and future pathogens
We are committed to providing COVID-19 testing solutions that support your testing strategy. The newest test in our COVID-19 testing portfolio is the Quidel Sofia SARS Antigen FIA. The Sofia SARS Antigen Fluorescent Immunoassay (FIA) uses advanced immunofluorescence-based lateral flow technology in a sandwich design for the qualitative detection of nucleocapsid protein from SARS-CoV-2. It provides automated and objective results in 15 minutes, allowing for testing of patients suspected of COVID-19/2019-nCoV in near-patient testing environments. In addition to its high sensitivity and specificity, integrated data management ability and barcode scanner sample tracking, it is also the first antigen test approved in Canada for asymptomatic testing. These tests are portable and easy to use with objective and automated results in 15 minutes. They can be performed by healthcare providers in various settings – events, schools, workplaces, and communities at large.
With the implementation of vaccines, rapid testing can bring us closer to the days before the pandemic – by safely reopening schools, businesses, and the economy. Precision Biomonitoring is proud to offer testing solutions, both PCR-based and antigen-based, to support these reopening efforts. Get in touch if you would like to discuss the best testing strategy for your specific needs.