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COVID-19 online testing trade: How can consumers protect themselves?

Product liability lawyer Sarah Moore discusses the risks of sourcing a Covid-19 testing kit in the online marketplace.

Covid-19 testing kits
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Sarah Moore specialises in product liability and claims for groups of people who have suffered an injury because of unsafe products. She has written a number of articles on topics such as drug regulation, cigarette packaging and food safety.
While the world watches and waits for a COVID-19 vaccine and, perhaps in the more immediate term, the emergence of a reliable antibody testing kit: a number of online vendors have appeared offering anything from ventilators to ‘COVID-19 cures’.

While President Trump’s endorsement of chloroquine as a potential cure for COVID-19 has now been withdrawn, following interventions by US healthcare regulators , the global online trade in COVID-19 related medical products continues.

COVID-19: Sale of Antibody Testing Kits

Antibody testing kits for COVID-19 are currently being developed in the hope that a simple blood test will enable individuals to confirm whether or not they have already had the virus. If they have, some scientists believe that this may reduce an individual’s risk of contracting the virus again for a period of time, and/or prevent future re-infection.

The benefits of such a test in the context of national lockdown are huge: not only as part of our national lockdown exit strategy, but also for manufacturers and vendors recognising the marketability of a reliable and safe antibody testing kit.

Earlier this month, the Guardian identified that a West Yorkshire GP was selling antibody tests directly to the public via a Facebook page called ‘Coronavirus Antibody Tests’ for just under £50. Following investigations by the newspaper the vendor has now removed this advert and is no longer selling these products. However, other online vendors are still offering such tests.

The UK medicines and healthcare watchdog, the MHRA, currently advises against the online purchase of antibody testing kits, noting that ‘there are no CE-marked tests for home use, and it is illegal to supply such products’

Contrary to the MHRA’s confirmation that no such tests have been confirmed as safe for use in the UK, some companies are still presenting their products as CE cleared, i.e. safe for UK consumers. The advice from the MHRA is clear however, consumers are advised against buying antibody testing kits online at this time.

COVID-19: Private sale of diagnostic testing
As a result of the very limited availability and access to testing in the UK, even for frontline workers, a market has grown up for private healthcare clinics offering private diagnostic testing, some at considerable expense; and also for direct to consumer testing kits sold by pharmacies for processing at home.

For those opting to undergo private testing at clinics, and/or those purchasing COVID-19 diagnostic testing kits it is worth noting Public Health England’s current advice  against purchasing these tests, on the basis that, ‘currently there is no published evidence about the suitability of these tests for diagnosing COVID-19 infection in a community setting’.  

Consumer guidance
However, for those purchasing diagnostic services from private health clinics, or who do make online purchases of other medical products at this time, it is worth bearing in mind the following guidelines:
  • Make sure you know exactly what you are buying: For example, if you are going to use the services of a private clinic to undergo COVID-19 diagnostic testing, check where the clinic is intending to send the samples for analysis before you consent to the testing process. Recent reports indicate that some laboratories have failed to provide rapid and accurate results, and the current government advice is clear that non-lab based diagnostic testing has not yet been confirmed as safe and accurate.
  • Ask questions about the accuracy of any testing: What guarantees is the manufacturer or clinic offering regarding the reliability and safety of testing? What data do they have to back that up? Does the manufacturer claim that the test is CE marked?
  • Keep all of the paperwork relating to the product and the purchase: If you are buying online, make sure you save the online ad securely, not just the hyperlink: This will mean that you can recover the ad if you do make a purchase and the website is subsequently taken down. Keep any additional email exchanges with the vendor as these are all part of the terms and conditions with which the product is supplied to you.
  • Where possible, if you do make a purchase, pay by credit card: As with all purchases, where an individual makes a purchase by credit card this can provide extra protection in the event that the product or service is proven to be unsatisfactory.

If you have bought medical products online during the pandemic,used the services of a private clinic, and are unsatisfied with the product and service and require legal advice  you can contact postbox@leighday.co.uk.

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