Some pharmacies see uptick in customers as sales of DIY COVID-19 antigen rapid test kits begin
SINGAPORE: Pharmacies in Singapore saw more customers coming in on Wednesday (Jun 16), the first day they began selling the COVID-19 antigen rapid test (ART) kits.
At the Guardian outlet in Bedok Mall, a few customers had bought the test kits within five minutes of the shop's opening at 10am, the in-store pharmacist told CNA.
The Watsons’ outlet at Heartbeat@Bedok also saw a “fair bit” of customers walking in to inquire about the kits when it opened, according to the company’s customer director Ms See Seow Ying.
Customers had to consult a pharmacist before purchasing them, as part of the Ministry of Health’s guidelines. The consultation includes asking if customers had any symptoms of COVID-19 and if they had recently undergone facial surgery.
READ: COVID-19 antigen rapid test kits for self-testing to be 'sold by pharmacists' to the public from Jun 16: MOH
The self-test kits are currently selling at 156 selected Unity, Watsons and Guardian outlets across Singapore. They are priced between S$10 and S$13.10, depending on the type and size of the pack purchased.
A check by CNA revealed that the price of the test kits varied across the three pharmacy brands. For instance, at Bedok Mall, the Abbott PanBio COVID-19 Antigen Self-test (1 kit) was selling for S$13.10 at Watsons' and S$12.80 at Guardian.
Nearby, at 212 Bedok North Street 1, the same brand of test kit was selling for S$12.80 at Unity.
So far, only four self-test kits have been approved by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for mass market use. They are Abbott PanBio COVID-19 Antigen Self-test, QuickVue At-Home OTC COVID-19 Test, SD Biosensor SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Self-Test Nasal and SD Biosensor Standard Q COVID-19 Ag Home Test.
These tests detect traces of the coronavirus by looking for virus proteins in the body and usually work best in the early stages of infection. They are able to produce results in less than 20 minutes.
In comparison, it can take up to 48 hours for PCR tests, as the samples have to be sent to laboratories to be tested.
When CNA visited various pharmacies in Bedok and Ang Mo Kio between 10am and 2pm, there was only a handful of customers who bought the test kits at each outlet. Shelves at the stores also appeared to be stocked with an ample supply of test kits.
While most customers bought two to three test kits, Ms See told CNA that she observed a few customers buying 10 self-test kits, which is the maximum allowed under the MOH guidelines.
“We have been advising customers to buy what they need and that there's no need to stock up excessively because we have got sufficient stock for everyone,” she said.
Mr Tan Yong Teck, who was at a Watsons’ outlet in Bedok Mall to buy the self-test kits, said having a supply of tests at home would make it more convenient for him and his family.
“We all have sensitive noses, so sometimes we can't differentiate whether it’s just a sensitive nose or if we have symptoms of COVID-19,” said the 41-year-old IT manager.
“There have been times where my kids had to stay home for a few days, while waiting for their results and in the end, nothing happened.”
“So the tests may help us by at least giving us one extra layer of check to see whether we have any of these symptoms,” he added.
A customer at the Guardian outlet in AMK Hub, Ms Gloria Lim, told CNA that she bought the tests so that she could try them out at home.
“It’s a good thing to have at home, just in case something happens,” she said.
“If anything, it offers a peace of mind,” the 64-year-old added.
QUICK, EASY BUT LESS ACCURATE?
Dr Alvina Nam, a resident doctor at Clinic@Costa, said the DIY tests could help to detect cases that might otherwise go unnoticed.
“For instance, a person who works in the same company as someone who was quarantined or they went near a hotspot without actually going inside, they may want to take a test just to make sure they are okay,” she said.
“If they don’t have any symptoms but they test positive, they’ll seek medical attention faster,” she added.
However, ART tests have some pitfalls and can result in false negatives, according to doctors CNA spoke to.
With a sensitivity of about 80 per cent for cases with higher viral loads, ART tests typically have a lower accuracy rate compared to PCR tests, which detect the genetic material of the virus and is considered the “gold standard” for COVID-19 testing.
Their comparatively lower sensitivity means those with smaller amounts of the virus in their bodies may go undetected. Similarly, if the person does not collect enough nasal sample, this could also result in false negatives.
This could lead to some cases slipping through the cracks.
“There will always be people who won’t do them properly or may not know how to do it, and these people could end up with a false negative,” said Dr Sim Tiong Puay, a family physician at TP Sim Clinic.
“This will cause more problems because then, you will have a person walking around thinking that he or she is negative.”
READ: Singapore must test 'faster, more liberally and extensively'; DIY tests soon available over the counter, says PM Lee
Another area of concern is that the DIY tests could delay those with symptoms from seeking medical attention immediately. Doctors told CNA that while the situation has improved slightly, many patients with symptoms such as runny nose and cough seek treatment only after a few days.
“We’ve had patients who sat on their symptoms at home for four to five days and self-medicated with their own cough or runny nose syrup before coming down to see us,” said Dr Nam.
“One reason is that they want to avoid coming down to the clinic because they think they might come into contact with people who have COVID-19 or they feel that since they have not come across any COVID-19 cases, they don’t think they have the virus,” she explained.
There could also be groups of patients who may be reluctant to be tested for COVID-19 as they are worried about the repercussions, such as losing their job, should they test positive, said Dr Sim.
TESTS COULD GIVE PEACE OF MIND
Despite its drawbacks, doctors agreed that the tests could offer more flexibility and give people peace of mind.
“Those who may not be able to go down to a clinic, such as the elderly or those who aren’t as mobile, can just take the test at home instead of making a trip down,” said Dr David Tay, medical director of The Medical Clinic.
CCK Family Clinic, which administers between 150 and 200 COVID-19-related tests per week, said it charges about S$180 for PCR tests. These are mostly for people who require a pre-departure test.
“We don’t offer the tests to those who just want peace of mind, based on MOH guidelines, so these people will have to go to a private hospital to get swabbed, if they really want to,” said Dr Alex Kuan, partner at CCK Family Clinic.
“Now that there are DIY tests, it will be more convenient and cheaper for people,” he said.