[COVIDWatch]: Are PCR tests being phased out because false positive results are “too high”?

By November 9, 2021 COVID-19, Health

We came across this message on Telegram:

The author says that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had allegedly admitted that the number of false positive cases for PCR tests are “too high” and that the CDC is thus withdrawing the test for use by 31 December 2021. The author then adds on that “only our local experts [are] still swearing by the PCR (test)”.

For context, the author of the message was replying to another member of the group who opined that the “PCR (test) is either over sensitive or fraud”, and that it was “creating numbers to allow fear to seep in”.

When we did a check on whether or not there has been a withdrawal of PCR tests by the CDC using the keywords ‘cdc withdrawing pcr test’, search results brought up an announcement by CDC along with several fact checks.

On an announcement dated 21 July 2021 on CDC’s website, we read that after 31 December 2021, CDC “will withdraw the request to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of the CDC 2019-Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel”. To put it in simpler terms, the CDC is looking to retire PCR tests and use other means of testing individuals for COVID-19.

Therefore, it is true that PCR tests are being phased out by the end of the year.

However, the reason as to why the CDC made that decision isn’t what was being suggested by the Telegram message’s author.

In a follow-up announcement dated 2 August 2021, the CDC shared that it had “received several questions” and therefore wanted to “provide further clarification and prevent potential confusion”.

CDC clarified that it is looking to retire PCR tests because the FDA “has [since] authorized hundreds of other SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests, many of which [have] higher throughput or can test for more than one illness at a time”. For the unacquainted, ‘throughput’ refers to rate of production or the speed at which something is processed. Therefore, to the CDC, PCR tests are “no longer filling an unmet need”, given the “wide availability of other SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests”.

Most importantly, CDC also addressed the question about whether or not it is retiring PCR tests because they have “produced inaccurate results”, to which CDC asserted that there are “no performance concerns” and that it is a “highly accurate test” that “has been used to successfully detect SARS-CoV-2 since February 2020”.

Therefore, while it is true that PCR tests are being phased out by the end of the year, it is false that their retirement is due to inaccurate results.

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