COVID-19 antigen test pilot process to begin

A pilot process to help evaluate the use of rapid antigen diagnostic tests (RADT) in identifying COVID-19 in the further and higher education sector and the early years sector is to begin this month

The HSE, working with the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth are undertaking this pilot process to learn more about how RADTs might be used more widely in third-level and childcare settings.

Staff and students in five further and higher education sites in Dublin, Cavan, Mayo and Galway will take part, and staff in early learning and childcare facilities across the East, Northeast and West will be invited to participate.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris said: “I am really pleased further education settings will form part of the HSE pilot on rapid testing. We have so much to learn about rapid testing, how effective the tests can be and whether they should be used on a larger scale.

"We have a pilot underway in four higher education settings already and today’s announcement will see the HSE pilot commence in five further education settings.

"None of this work can or will replace the public health advice but it can be an additional weapon in our fight against COVID-19 and will help us with our plans for a safe and sustainable re-opening of campuses and society.”

Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Roderic O’Gorman said: “I am pleased that a number of providers of early learning and childcare services will get a chance to participate in this pilot of rapid antigen diagnostic tests.

"The early learning and childcare sector is essential for the wellbeing of children and their families, and the staff in the sector have shown great commitment to the children in their care over the course of the pandemic.

"The continued safe operation of early learning and childcare services is a priority of all involved in the sector, and this pilot will provide learning to the HSE to manage the Covid risk in our crèches and pre-schools.” 

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly said: “I’m pleased to see further sectors of our society engage in the Antigen testing process. We’ve already had successful use of these tests in healthcare settings and in agriculture and food production.

"I want to see these tests used more in society as an additional tool in our fight against COVID-19. I want to thank the HSE and my colleagues across government for engaging in this feasibility process and we have established the Expert Advisory Group on Antigen testing to advise government departments on how these tests can be used.”

Commenting, Niamh O Beirne, HSE National Lead for Testing and Tracing said: “Over the last 15 months as Ireland has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread PCR testing, the most effective means to detect COVID-19 was a critical part of our response and this will continue. 

"We continue to develop and evolve our testing strategy which now includes GP referral; walk-in no appointment necessary testing; online self-referral; and pop-up testing for short periods of time in areas where our Public Health teams believe easier access to COVID-19 testing will help suppress the spread of infection.  

"As part of our testing strategy, we are now beginning a pilot process to examine how we might most effectively use antigen testing.  While antigen tests are not as effective as PCR at identifying COVID-19, they are easy to use and provide a result within a very short timeframe. We are examining how they might be used in particular circumstances or sectors.

"By undertaking this pilot process in a number of higher education and childcare facilities we want to better understand how to utilise antigen testing to identify cases early and so help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We will learn about the user experience and the challenges to the practical roll-out of this sort of testing. Importantly, we’ll be in a position to develop workable strategies for further deployment, should that be considered appropriate."

Dr Greg Martin, Clinical Lead for the Contact Management Programme in the HSE’s Test and Trace service added: “While there are known limitations of antigen testing, we believe that by undertaking this sort of pilot project, we will develop an excellent understanding of how and when to safely and effectively use this tool to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Last updated on: 16 / 07 / 2021