‘Experimental’ coronavirus vaccine months away, pinprick tests in doubt

“From a public health perspective, COVID-19-positive patients are infectious to other people early in infection,” the college’s president Michael Dray said.


“False negatives would have serious risks of incorrectly reassuring people and therefore increasing the spread of infection within the community.”

Federal health minister Greg Hunt last week said the point-of-care blood tests would boost Australia’s testing capacity, particularly among GPs and other healthcare workers.

Dr Dray said throat swabs, which have been in short supply, should remain the screening method for detecting coronavirus infection and while the pinprick tests “may have a place in detecting unrecognised past infection and immunity, that role still needs to be rigorously evaluated”.

Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said the pinprick blood test was “an after-the-fact diagnostic test” that had “no role to play in the immediate diagnosis” of COVID-19.

Professor Kelly said on Wednesday “quality assurance” would be undertaken before the point-of-care tests were made available and they would only be useful for obtaining a picture of the level of past exposure and immunity to the virus.

Asked if the 18-month timeline for developing a vaccine “actually optimistic”, Professor Kelly said scientists in Australia and around the world were working hard on the project but “vaccines for coronaviruses are not easy”.

“In fact, up to now, we have never had a successful vaccine against a coronavirus,” he said, saying the scientific community was in “experimental times”.


Professor Kelly said there were early signs that Australia was “flattening the curve”, citing a decline in the number of new infections since the stricter rules were introduced.

He said it was up to the states and territories whether they prosecuted Australians who did not live with their partners for visiting them, amid a split between NSW and Victoria on the issue vexing millennial couples.

“What we are trying to do here is stop the transmission of the virus from one person to another,” Professor Kelly said.

While one way of doing that was to “keep 1.5 metres away from each other”, the other was to “limit the number of interactions you have in a day”, he said.

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Dana is a federal health reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Canberra.

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