Regular COVID-19 testing, according to experts, is ineffective as a substitute for obligatory vaccines in preventing the virus’s spread.
In a variety of circumstances, testing as an alternative to mandated COVID-19 immunizations has arisen in policy across the country.
In high-risk contexts such as hospitals and schools, Ontario has permitted COVID-19 testing as an alternative to required immunizations, while Carleton University in Ottawa, Ont., and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver have also approved testing rather than vaccination.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has proposed that unvaccinated civil servants and domestic travellers can show a negative COVID-19 test or do rapid testing on the spot as opposed to being vaccinated if he were elected prime minister.
However, medical experts are not in favour of the option.
“[Testing] is not really that effective,” said Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infection control physician at Toronto’s University Health Network.
“It depends on what the testing format you use, first of all, and second of all, how frequently you do it.”
Vaisman said there are two primary types of COVID-19 testing: rapid testing and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. Rapid testing only has about a 50 per cent chance of detecting COVID-19, according to Vaisman, while PCR’s sensitivity can reach up to 80 per cent.
Ontario’s rules call for rapid testing — the less effective method — to be used, rather than PCR.
Dr. Gerald Evans, an immunology professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., is bewildered by that requirement.
“Why would we use a crappier test in this period while we’re waiting to get everybody fully vaccinated?” he asked.
“But, you know, that’s the kind of weirdness that we’re seeing in decision-makers when it comes to this.”
Both Evans and Vaisman speculate that an excess of rapid testing kits the province has purchased may be behind the decision.
Ontario also currently requires a COVID-19 test once a week for hospital workers, which Evans said is not often enough to always catch the virus, preferring three times a week instead.\
“That’s a real loophole,” he said.
Ontario chief medical health officer Dr. Kieran Moore has said the amount of testing may go up to two or three times a week for hospital workers, and it is set at twice a week for teachers.
Nevertheless, both Evans and Vaisman still see the testing option as a stepping stone ahead of mandatory vaccinations, and indeed, most hospitals in Kingston and Toronto have eliminated the option altogether, according to Evans.
“Hospitals have a real important mandate to keep our patients safe,” he said.
“If we have people getting sick from COVID because they’re not vaccinating, that’s going to impact staffing, which impacts our ability to provide health care to people who don’t have COVID.”
Critics have come down on Ontario’s testing policy, with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath calling it a “risky half-measure.”
“A test just once per week is not the same as a mandatory vaccine,” she said.
Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said Premier Doug Ford is “pandering to anti-vaxxers.”
Evans does recognize that testing can be an attractive way to appease those resistant to vaccinations and argues that’s why Ontario has provided the option, but it ultimately is a surveillance strategy, not a preventative strategy.
Another concern of testing is the cost of it.
Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, questions who will pay for these tests: the patients or the taxpayers. Moore has stated that customers will most likely not have to pay for their own testing, but has not ruled out the possibility.
At Shoppers Drug Mart, a quick test costs $40.
“It’s really troublesome if [tests] are a significant expense to the broader society that’s coming up in health-care budgets,” he added, stressing that an increasing number of people are becoming increasingly resentful of those who refuse to be vaccinated.
“Offering [testing] as an alternative could be politically difficult,” he said.
Source_ The Canadian Press