‘Should I have spoken so loudly asking for an antigen test?’

‘Should I have spoken so loudly asking for an antigen test?’

The woman in front of me asks the pharmacist how much the antigen tests are.

“It’s €7.95 for one or a pack of five for €30,” the pharmacist says.

“OK so, I’ll take 10,” the woman says.

It’s just over six months since Professor Philip Nolan, chairman of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s epidemiological modelling advisory group, caused a storm with his “snake oil” tweet when referring to antigen testing.

And although Nphet is still cautioning against using antigen testing as a “green light” to go out and socialise, particularly if a person has symptoms, they were flying off the shelves of pharmacies in Dublin city centre when I went into town during the week.

The cheapest one I could get my hands on was €7.50, the dearest €10.

Most places do a deal of a pack of five for between €30 and €32.50. Some of the supermarkets are also selling them.

Seán Murray with his antigen test kit. Picture: Moya Nolan

And there was something a bit awkward, a bit uneasy, about the whole experience.

On the short walk from the first to the second pharmacy, it ran through my head: “Should I have spoken so loudly asking for an antigen test? Should I whisper in the next one? Do the staff think I have Covid? Do the other customers? Did I remember to wash my hands on the way in? Should I have coughed so much in the queue with other people?” 

I may have made that last one up, but you get the idea. 

The Nphet narrative is that people may use these tests, which are far less accurate than PCRs but give results too quickly, as a licence to go out and do whatever they’ve planned.

That’s certainly not my plan, but I wonder if others are doing that. I hope not anyway.

Demand has been very high

Staff told me the demand for them has been very high, with stock often going out the door as soon as it comes in again. One pharmacy was down to its last box of five.

And, to be fair, they’re not cheap.

In the latest Nphet letter to Government, it tacitly endorsed the recommendation that individuals who do high-risk activities such as going to the pub, cinema, restaurants, nightclubs should consider doing two antigen tests a week.

Admittedly, my socialising has taken a dip this month as cases have risen significantly, but I would quite like a trip to the pub every now and then.

I don’t want to make myself or anyone else sick so I’d be more than happy to do the two a week.

But if I’m buying one at a time, that’s €15 a week, which turns into roughly €60 a month.

If I’m more economical and buy the packs of five at a time, I’m still looking at €60 a month.

And I know I’m lucky too, to be in a position to buy them. It’s a big outlay for many people.

The new school antigen regime notwithstanding, if people with children want to buy antigens for the family, the cost goes up again.

That’s not lost on me as I sit down to use one myself.

And let’s be honest. It’s not pleasant doing it.

Swab goes in one nostril, swirl it around, and then repeat for the second one. Yuck. Picture: Moya Nolan

The instructions in the packet were fairly clear, but I Googled “how to do an antigen test” and the HSE’s page was the first to come up.

Mercifully, there’s also a video on the page which takes you through it quite easily. 

Swab goes in one nostril, swirl it around, and then repeat for the second one. Yuck. I’d much rather get a PCR where someone does this bit for me, but there you go.

Into the tube for a minute, seal it up and then droplets onto the testing device. As with other ones I’ve done so far, this one is negative again. Phew.

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