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Rapid Covid Tests Don’t Work As Well For Kids As They Miss One Third Of Infections, Study Finds

Published 3 months ago
By Forbes


Rapid antigen tests to detect Covid-19 don’t work as well on children and fail to meet minimum performance standards set by public health regulators, according to research published in BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, who questioned the effectiveness of mass testing campaigns in children a day after the Biden Administration launched its own to combat the spread of the omicron variant. 


Rapid lateral flow antigen tests detected around 64% of Covid-19 cases in children, according to an analysis of evidence from 17 studies that examined eight different tests involving more than 6,000 children.

The researchers said no test included in the study “fully satisfied the minimum performance requirements” set by the World Health Organization, the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The organizations all require tests to have a sensitivity of at least 80%—sensitivity refers to ability to detect the infection when present.

Detection rates for children with symptoms improved but still failed to meet regulators’ guidelines, the researchers found, with the overall sensitivity of the tests just under 72%. 

For asymptomatic children, the overall sensitivity fell to just above half (56%).

The researchers said the findings “may affect the planned purpose of the broad implementation of testing programmes,” though noted the study was limited to just eight of more than 500 tests on the market.


Why the tests were less effective in children and the researchers did not offer an explanation for this. All except one of the evaluated studies involved samples taken by trained staff—the other involved supervised self-collection—making improper sampling unlikely and also opening up further real-world uncertainty for when tests are self-administered.


Rapid testing in children is a cornerstone feature of some countries’ efforts to reopen schools, including the U.K. and Germany. On Tuesday, the Biden Administration launched an initiative to send free tests to U.S. households—though an error meant some residents in apartments were unable to order tests—bolstered by a free N95 mask drive that Biden will announce Wednesday. Tests in the U.S. have been in short supply and there have been inventory shortages at major retailers including Amazon and Walmart.

By Robert Hart, Forbes Staff

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