The problem with saliva testing is that few of the announcements, orders, recommendations or pledges around it have ever spit-balled into actual tests for people to take.
Debates over the accuracy of the testing have stretched on for months as other countries approved its use. Now the Ministry of Health accepts its accuracy, but is unsure if the test for which it has granted a contract is a suitable replacement for nasal swabbing during an outbreak.
The Government has struggled to introduce regular saliva testing even to high-risk border workers, and managed to properly start the phased rollout only on August 11. This is despite saliva testing being commonplace around the world, and having been used to prevent outbreaks on US college campuses.
We are in the middle of a global pandemic and the Government has spent the best part of a year dithering over saliva testing, despite the fact it could make a huge difference in the fight against Covid-19.
The promise to get saliva testing under way goes all the way back to the Simpson Roche report, which recommended the tests, back in September 2020.
That’s a whole year ago. It should have been in place by December.
This year the Ministry of Health falsely claimed saliva testing objectives had been completed in its report to the Covid-19 independent continuous review, improvement and advice group after the February Auckland outbreak, an act which earned it a swift rebuke when the group looked into the issue in June.
“There is no clear timeline for saliva testing to be introduced into routine practice,” says a report from the group, written by Philip Hill and Debbie Ryan. “Indeed, this recommendation should not be labelled as completed, as saliva testing has not been properly introduced into practice.”
The Government lied about it.
The ministry ran a procurement process for a $60 million saliva testing contract for border workers in February, with the aim of standing up a testing regime by the middle of May.
A procurement panel had the choice between Rako’s diagnostically validated test, using a protocol with emergency use authorisation from the FDA, and one that didn’t, from Asia Pacific Healthcare Group (APHG).
The ministry chose the test that wasn’t diagnostically validated.
Almost beyond belief. They went with the company whose test wasn’t diagnostically validated. I suspect the reason they did so was petty – that Rako had put public pressure on the Government to use saliva testing.
Despite all the public noises about concerns around the accuracy of saliva testing, the ministry gave testing accuracy only a 10 per cent weighting within the tender process used to decide between competing bids.