Chickenpox vaccine
(Photo: iStock).

Superdrug has been criticised for “profiteering from a pandemic” by charging £69 for a home antibody test for coronavirus.

The manufacturer of the test, Abbott, said it was not a DIY kit to test for Covid-19 antibodies.

“The test is not intended for use as a home test and it should not be conducted with a finger stick blood sample,” the company told Pharmacy Business in a statement on Thursday (May 21).

Pharmacy Business did ask Superdrug if the company would consider discontinuing the antibody home testing kit in light of what the manufacturers have said, but there was no response.

A member of parliament who also chairs the lawmakers’ panel on consumer protection has lambasted the health and beauty retailer for “playing on people’s fears.”

Yvonne Fovargue MP said: “£70 with postage for a test which is not completely accurate seems excessive.

“Superdrug seems to be playing on people’s fears and that’s not right. What people really need is a readily available, easy to use test that’s accurate. They deserve nothing less.”

Fovargue supports the use of community pharmacies for testing because “they have both the expertise and knowledge of their communities, which puts them in an ideal position to both test and discuss any issues.”

Superdrug launched the Covid-19 antibody testing kit on Wednesday (May 20) but there were concerns over accuracy of results which Superdrug put down at 97.5 per cent.

This comes amid growing public interest on how the Roche antibody tests, when they are finally made available to the public, will contribute to the Government strategy on easing the ongoing lockdown.

Users of the Superdrug test would need to prick their finger at home with a lancet before collecting a few drops of blood in a vial to send the sample to be tested at an accredited laboratory via prepaid post.

However, Abbott Laboratories told Pharmacy Business that the test was meant for laboratory use only.

“Abbott’s Architect SARS-CoV-2 test was developed for use by laboratory professionals only. The Abbott test has been validated for use with a venous blood sample that is taken by a healthcare provider.

“When used appropriately with a venous blood sample, the Abbott test has demonstrated 99.6% specificity and 100% sensitivity to detect IgG antibodies for patients tested 14 days after symptoms started.

“Abbott has been, and continues to be, very clear with our existing laboratory customers about the intended use of this test and that Abbott is unable to give any guarantees or make claims for the performance of our test if it is used with finger stick blood.

“Abbott does not have any data to support that finger stick blood samples can be used with our test.”

In a written statement to Pharmacy Business, Superdrug said: “The laboratory partner that we work closely with to supply this test has provided evidence of validation of the use of a capillary blood sample.

“As a UKAS accredited laboratory, TDL have a responsibility to carry out validation test, they conducted an internal study using sample provided from patients that have previously tested positive using a PCR swab test to Corona Virus (SARS-CoV-2).

The statement added that the chain’s Online Doctor service “provides a home sampling test where a blood test is taken at home but analysed at a UKAS-accredited laboratory.”

While launching the Covid-19 antibody test on Wednesday, Superdrug’s Healthcare Director Michael Henry reportedly said it was Public Health England-approved and that the retail chain was “confident of its accuracy and reliability.”

“PHE has not evaluated any lab-based tests that involve people taking their own blood sample at home,” a spokesperson told Pharmacy Business on Thursday, charifying that it “does not issue accreditation of any testing laboratories or provide approvals, validations or endorsements of any particular products including any COVID-19 diagnostic assay.”

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said: “The link between the presence of antibodies and immunity is not proven, and some tests are not specific for COVID-19 antibodies.”

“Any antibody test at present can only provide a partial picture, echoed Gino Martini, Chief Scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

“The real issue is that no-one knows the level of immunity that is conferred by having antibodies to coronavirus, how long it might last, and if you can become re-infected.

“We need much more information and data on immunity before we can understand the importance of having antibodies to the virus.”

The government has held the view that a positive test result for antibodies does not necessarily mean that the person being tested is immune to COVID-19. Superdrug have maintained that those who test positive, i.e. have antibodies, should still adhere to the Government’s social distancing guidelines.

This has led many to wonder the purpose of the test and the rationale behind the pricing, although Superdrug has said that the price is “reflective of the cost.”

The story has generated a lot of interest on social media platforms inclucing Twitter where a user Craig Fleming tweeted that Superdrug was “preying on peoples anxieties.”

Others also expressed concern over the price:

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