At the height of a pandemic, it’s easy to see why mass testing is important. If you don’t know who has an infectious disease – and where they are – then your chances of controlling and eradicating it are slim.
But when infection numbers are dropping, and increasing amounts of people are being vaccinated – is there still a need to keep testing?
The answer to this question is yes. There absolutely is a need to keep testing – and here are five reasons why…
1. The vaccine doesn’t stop transmission
Remember at the start of the pandemic in Europe, when the advice was all about washing hands? There was a really good reason for this, and it’s that the Covid-19 virus can be picked up off other people’s hands and surfaces.
Imagine a pub with 200 people in it. One of them has the virus. They may not have symptoms and may not know they’re infected. But they’re touching handrails, cash and door handles. Every person that touches something the infected person has touched can then pick up the virus from them and pass it on to other people.
Eventually, someone whose immunity is running out (see point 3), or for whom the vaccine isn’t 100% effective (see point 4), or who hasn’t yet been vaccinated (see point 5) could still catch the disease and become ill.
The signs so far are that vaccines slow down transmission. But they don’t stop it. Testing, on the other hand, allows workplaces and public health officials to identify and stamp out disease quickly.
2. The virus is mutating
We all know that the flu vaccine changes every year. The reason for this is because from one season to the next, the flu virus mutates. This means it evolves a little, and develops new characteristics. The vaccine that works for an older variant of the Covid-19 virus may not be so effective against a newer version.
Professor of Respiratory Medicine, Dr Keir Lewis says: “Evolutionary pressure will inevitably force the virus to become more infectious – which will lead to faster transmission. Indeed, new variants have already emerged, and this increases the likelihood that vaccination programmes and treatments will have to continue to adapt and evolve in the coming years.”
There’s also increasing evidence that different Covid-19 strains are recombining their genomes inside cells. This process allows variants to emerge even faster – and it happens when one person is infected by Covid-19 viruses from multiple sources. So imagine the same pub, but three people have the virus – and you manage to swallow three different strains of the virus because you forgot to wash your hands after you open the main door and you rub your face.
In this scenario, testing wouldn’t just help to identify where infectious cases are. It would also help viral geneticists to trace viral mutations back to source – and develop a deeper understanding of the disease.
3. We don’t know how long vaccine immunity lasts
As we’ve already mentioned, the flu vaccine has to be updated every year. The same could well be true of Covid-19 vaccines. And indeed, the British Medical Journal recently reported that a winter booster jab is likely to be necessary.
The scientific community is adapting and responding to the pandemic at incredible pace – but we still don’t know for sure how long immunity from Covid-19 vaccines lasts, or how it affects certain people, such as those pregnant.
4. Vaccines aren’t 100% effective
The USA’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published findings from a study of first responders in March 2021. They indicated that 90% of people who’d received the vaccine were immune from the disease, 14 days after their second dose.
This is, of course, great news. But it means that some people will not become immune, despite having the vaccine. This means some vaccinated people may still catch the disease.
Testing is what will keep these people safe. It allows scientists and public health experts to pinpoint outbreaks of the disease and act quickly – because with digitised testing, they can act on real-time information, moments after results are known.
5. Some people can’t – or won’t – vaccinate
A small number of people have been advised not to have a Covid-19 vaccine. There are also communities of people who will choose not to take the vaccine.
Dr Lewis adds: “While we would always encourage people to be vaccinated, some people will choose not to be – and this could impact efforts to control the spread of the virus.”
This is another reason that testing will remain necessary for the foreseeable future – and why digitisation of test data collection and management will become increasingly necessary.
If you’re a lateral flow test manufacturer and you’d like to see a demo of how easy it is to build data collection and management into your offer, book a call today.