Australia has bought 1.5 million COVID-19 antibody tests that are not accurate enough to use, scientists have discovered.
The coronavirus tests were due to be rolled out to GP clinics at the end of March.
However, a report commissioned by health minister Greg Hunt found the tests were not “accurate enough to be useful”.
Professor Carola Vinuesa helped produce the report on behalf of Rapid Research Information Forum – the scientific strike force set up to help the federal government navigate the COVID-19 crisis.
“The reality is, at the moment, they are not useful,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.
“At the moment, the quality does not seem to be good enough for these tests to be deployed in large scale.
“The sensitivity is not very good. They are not useful in being able to say ‘you were infected’.”
The tests are similar to a pregnancy test. A drop of blood is placed in the device which after about 10 minutes displays a black bar if the patient has antibodies.
Prof Vinuesa said no test currently developed was accurate enough to reliably detect antibodies.
“Most individual results will be false positives,” she said. “You cannot have most positive results being false.”
Antibody tests are considered crucial by epidemiologists because they will give a true estimate of the number of people who have caught the virus.
But they are extremely difficult to make 100% accurate as antibody levels can vary significantly between people.
They can also pick up antibodies to other viruses that are similar to COVID-19 like the common cold.
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