Routine, do-it-yourself COVID-19 testing could be just as good as a vaccine when it comes to stopping the transmission of the coronavirus, says Harvard epidemiologist, Michal Mina. Scientists across the globe are scrambling to bring an arsenal of anti-COVID therapeutics to the clinic. However, they still need to check boxes from regulatory bodies before they hit the mainstream. While we wait, public health strategies to choke the spread of SARS-CoV-2 are extremely limited — continue lockdowns, shut schools, and keep workforces in home offices.
Personal COVID-testing kits could pack a punch in that they’re cheap to manufacture, can be distributed rapidly, and most importantly, they’re already in the late stages of development, far surpassing that of any vaccine.
In Mina’s opinion, multiple economic stimulus packages will cost governments far more than giving out hundreds of millions of these diagnostic kits to communities. Although COVID diagnostics performed in clinical diagnostic laboratories are admittedly far more sensitive and accurate, these low-cost alternatives would be good enough for everyday use. Self-isolating immediately after a positive result from a DIY kit is far quicker, cheaper, and more effective than the current “test and trace” strategy — which only picks up under 3 percent of COVID-positive individuals early enough to prevent transmission anyway.
Interestingly, Mina proposes that this community testing approach could create an “artificial herd immunity”, which mirrors the epidemiological dynamics of when most people have received a vaccine against the virus.
There are currently several companies working towards releasing these disposable diagnostic tests: Sherlock Biosciences, E25 Bio, and 3M to name a few. The most promising are paper-based tests, which employ technologies similar to commercially-available pregnancy tests.
“What I would like to see happen is to start using testing [as] a true public health tool to break transmission chains in the same way that we know we can use masks to decrease transmission,” said Mina.
“I want these tests to tell people they’re transmitting [the virus to others] at the time they’re transmitting, and [when] people can act on it because they’re getting immediate results. And I want them to take it every single day, or every other day.”
Source: The Harvard Gazette