COVID-19 Fact Checks

FALSE: CDC withdraws emergency use request for COVID-19 PCR test due to inaccuracy

Rappler
FALSE: CDC withdraws emergency use request for COVID-19 PCR test due to inaccuracy
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t say it would no longer be supporting the use of PCR tests in general or that it is removing PCR tests because of inaccuracy
At a glance
  • Claim: The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has withdrawn its request for emergency use authorization for its RT-PCR test because the test cannot distinguish ordinary flu virus from SARS-COV-2.
  • Rating: FALSE
  • The facts: The CDC has announced that it will withdraw the emergency use authorization request for its own COVID-19 diagnostic PCR test after December 2021 because newer PCR testing options now exist which can also simultaneously test patients for influenza.
  • Why we fact-checked this: As of writing, the videos making this claim have gained a total of 124,000 reactions, 23,700 comments, 208,000 shares, and 3.9 million views on Facebook.
Complete details

On August 15, the Facebook page of the political party Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino posted a live video interview of about 1 hour and 11 minutes with doctor Jose Micabalo Oclarit, pathologist Fidel Fernandez, and lawyer Aaron Soguilon, and host Rey Valeros Jr. 

Starting at 17:19 mark of the video, Soguilon said, “As of, I think, August 5, winithdraw na ng CDC sa America ang emergency use ng RT-PCR dahil hindi naman nito ma-distinguish ang ordinary flu sa COVID-19…. Ibig sabihin, hindi reliable.”

(As of August 5, the US CDC had withdrawn the emergency use of the RT-PCR test because it couldn’t distinguish ordinary flu virus from SARS-COV-2…. That means it’s not reliable.)

Valeros, abetted by Soguilon, said that the RT-PCR tests were flawed, and inaccurate, citing these as reasons why CDC withdrew the emergency use authorization.

Oclarit, who was identified in the video as an expert in molecular biology, said that the RT-PCR tests that were currently administered made use of a universal primer for coronaviruses. That was why, even those with ordinary flu tested positive for COVID-19. Meanwhile, Fernandez also questioned instances when asymptomatic patients tested positive for COVID-19.

Another Facebook page uploaded a four-minute video that showed parts of the interview, with a banner that read, “BREAKING NEWS. RT-PCR MALING-MALI! GINAWANG NEGOSYO?”

As of writing, the videos have gained a combined 124,000 reactions, 23,700 comments, 208,000 shares, and 3.9 million views on Facebook.

The claim is false.

In July 2021, CDC Division of Laboratory Systems notified laboratories that, after December 2021, it would withdraw from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) request for an emergency use authorization request for its own COVID-19 diagnostic PCR test because newer PCR testing options now existed.

This announcement from CDC “encourages laboratories to consider adoption of a multiplexed method that can facilitate detection and differentiation of SARS-COV-2 and influenza viruses” and “save both time and resources as we head into influenza season.” 

The CDC did not say that it would no longer be supporting the use of PCR tests or that it was removing PCR tests because of the latter’s supposed failure to differentiate between COVID-19 and influenza. The FDA also did not question the reliability of PCR tests nor revoked the CDC test’s emergency use authorization. 

COVID-19 PCR tests are specific to SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The genetic sequence of the flu virus is different from the SARS-COV-2 virus and wouldn’t be detected by a COVID-19 PCR test.

CDC’s Real-Time RT-PCR Diagnostic Panel was first introduced in February 2020 for the detection of SARS-COV-2 only.

In a Reuters article, CDC spokesperson Jasmine Reed said that the CDC’s COVID-19 PCR test “has not demonstrated any performance issues.” He also explained that “the demand for this test has declined with the emergence of other higher-throughput and multiplexed assays.”

Similar and related claims have also been debunked by other international fact-checking organizations, including Reuters, Newswise, and FactCheck.org

On August 21, the Philippine Department of Health posted a graphic debunking the claim and stressed that the gold standard for the diagnosis of COVID-19 remained to be the PCR test. The DOH follows a strict protocol for administering the test, based on the symptoms and possible exposure of an individual to COVID-19. 

The positive result of COVID-19 is important in detecting the virus, with or without the symptoms, in order to give the necessary treatment and to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and its variants) – Jene-Anne Pangue/ Rappler.com 

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