Saliva test developer 'frustrated' by Government's slow uptake

A New Zealand scientist at the forefront of saliva testing for Covid-19 admits she's frustrated by the Government's hesitancy around to the method. 

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Dr Anne Wyllie, one of the developers who pioneered the option, says New Zealand could greatly benefit from it. Source: Breakfast

Dr Anne Wyllie and her team of researchers at Yale University in the United States pioneered the SalivaDirect test, given the green light in the US last year, which attracted global attention. 

The non-invasive technology uses a sample of a person's saliva to detect Covid-19, an alternative to the nasopharyngeal (nasal swab) test. 

"There's not a lot of difference in terms of accuracy. These tests detect SARS-COV2, the virus; they don't detect the flu or other viruses," Wyllie told Breakfast. 

"The fact is, a saliva sample is very easy to take, and it requires less health care workers."

She says saliva testing is increasingly adopted overseas as people look for a more efficient option. 

Saliva testing is less demanding on health workers as in most cases people can administer the test themselves by spitting in a tube. 

She says this would help free up health workers to carry out other jobs.

"A saliva sample is very easy to take; it requires less health care workers. So, instead of a health care worker taking that swab, they could be out delivering vaccines instead, or be in hospitals where they're needed too." 

The test is also non-invasive, which Wyllie says could be a critical factor in people's hesitancy in getting tested. 

As New Zealand battles the Delta variant outbreak, the Ministry of Health has expressed its concern at dwindling testing numbers. 

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has urged Kiwis with Covid-19 symptoms to get tested for the virus so the Government can be confident there is no Covid-19 still lurking in the community. 

"It could actually increase the number of people willing to come forward and go, 'hey this is going to be easier, it's gonna require less time, and it's not going to leave a burning sensation at the back of my throat for the rest of the day," Wyllie says of saliva testing.

She stressed the importance of a quick turnaround of Covid-19 test results.

"You've got to have options," Wyllie said. 

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That's according to a Pasifika health provider in Porirua, which couldn't get the go-ahead for a planned saliva testing rollout in March. Source: 1 NEWS

"If something happens again, you can't afford to have two to three day waits." 

In July, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins announced saliva tests would become available for frontline workers, giving them more options from mid-August. 

However, it's yet to be approved for wider use, fuelling frustrations among some health groups with the Government expressing it's unsure whether the tests would act as a suitable replacement to nasal swabs. 

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The community health group has been running a pilot programme alongside an accredited saliva testing company. Source: 1 NEWS

Pacific Health Plus chairman Fiso John Fiso in Porirua told 1 NEWS last week it couldn't get the go-ahead as it had hoped to after advocating for months. 

"For us, it was about being prepared for the community and being proactive, not being the last person to be handed down the solution."

Source: 1 NEWS

Despite the Government's staggered response to saliva testing, other politicians have advocated for its broader use in New Zealand's Covid-19 response.

Act Party leader David Seymour and National's Covid-19 response spokesperson Chris Bishop have both voiced their desire for saliva testing. 

In July, Bishop noted there was "certainly a whole group of people out there" who found the nasal swabs invasive and were likely deterred from getting a test.