Omicron Scotland: Fears in Fife hundreds of residents misusing lateral flow tests
Fears hundreds of Fifers may be misusing lateral flow tests have been raised as the region prepares to step up its COVID vaccine programme in response to the Omicron variant.
NHS Fife said it stands ready to implement advice from the Scottish Government, based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), to offer boosters to all over 18s and cut the wait after a second dose from six to three months following the emergence of the new variant in Scotland this week.
That will require a huge redoubling of efforts at vaccination clinics across Fife, with children aged 12 to 15 also now being invited for a second jab to stop the virus’ spread.
But while more than 677,000 jabs have been administered in the Kingdom to date, concerns about the role of testing in the bid to curb COVID cases have come to the fore - particularly the cheaper, lateral flow antigen tests which are widely available in communities.
NHS Fife medical director Dr Chris McKenna said he had encountered many instances of the tests being used by people with COVID symptoms in lieu of PCR tests.
And that, he stressed, could be falsely reassuring people they do not have COVID-19, and therefore means they do not self-isolate and are potentially facilitating spread of the virus.
“These lateral flow tests are for asymptomatic people to check that they are not carrying the virus asymptomatically,” he explained.
“I can’t tell you the number of stories we’ve been seeing and we have to be clear: this is not a ‘check if your sniffles are Covid’ test, it’s about checking yourself to protect yourself and others.
“If you’ve got symptoms, you get a PCR test. You should not be using lateral flow tests if you have symptoms.”
Dr McKenna went on to describe being unvaccinated as the “greatest risk to your health” at this moment in time.
He continued: “When it comes to COVID, being vaccinated is your best option for treatment if you were to become positive.
“Yes, we have treatment for patients who come into hospital with severe illness but actually what we know now is that if you are vaccinated and you develop COVID, your disease is much milder and the chances of requiring intensive care or dying are much, much lower, so prevention is better than cure.
“It’s better to act now and get vaccinated, rather than get it later.”
Dr Joy Tomlinson, NHS Fife director of public health, urged people to continue following the guidance - such as wearing face coverings, hand washing and mixing outdoors where possible - and encouraged people to test properly.
“It’s so important to say all of this because individual steps add up, particularly just now when we’re in a changing stage with an unknown variant,” she added.
“Anything individuals can do to try to break these chains of transmission is a huge help for wider population benefit.”
Dr Tomlinson said COVID rates were expected to remain relatively high in FIfe over the winter period, although experts anticipate a “sawtooth” pattern of cases rising and falling over the coming months.
“Broadly speaking, we’re following a similar trajectory as the rest of Scotland,” she noted.