At least, I wish I could smell a RAT. They’ve been far more elusive than their rodent namesake. As Omicron peaked across Australia, there has never been a time when we have needed our healthcare system more. One of the things I love about the Australian healthcare system is universal access; whether you are a prince or a pauper, you know you can get access to world-class healthcare and it won’t cost you an arm or a leg.
Up until now, this has been a wonderful blessing to myself, my family, and my customers. But this summer, there was a seismic shift in Australia’s approach to public health, and almost nobody noticed. Many private enterprises (including one prominent Australia pharmacy) lobbied the Morrison government to not provide free rapid antigen tests to the public. Why? Well, if something is being provided for free, they can’t sell it to you. Especially not at the exorbitant prices, which saw the Australian Federal Police begin doing raids on retailers gouging their customers in their hour of greatest need.
This struck me as incredibly immoral. The health and well-being of our most disadvantaged clients must always be more important than making a quick buck. The moment we as healthcare providers begin seeing profits as more important than our customer’s health, we have fallen short of what a true Australia pharmacy should be: equal, fair, loving, and philanthropic. Colleagues of mine who work in the United Kingdom are providing seven free RATs a week to everyone. It can be done. We just need to make sure the noble goals of public health are not tainted by the (un)holy dollar. In my physical Australia pharmacy, we have been selling them on at cost price – ideally one or two at a time so everyone who needs one can get their hands on one.
If we fail to safeguard medicare, we may well find ourselves in a situation like in the United States. A 70 year old man from Seattle battled COVID for almost two months, before making a miraculous recovery, and walking from the hospital with a new lease on life. The only problem was that he was stung with a $1.5 million AUD bill for his troubles. I’ve known customers of mine who have spent weeks in an Australian hospital and walked out without ever having reached for their credit card.
This matters. The odds are good that I personally will always be able to afford healthcare. But there are many vulnerable people in my community who might not. It amounts to loving thy neighbour when we call for public health police to prioritise public health, not private interests.
Please don’t hear this as a political diatribe. This is just one person who works in the Australian pharmacy industry who wants to make sure that the best country in the world stays the best. We got there by lifting everyone up. Let’s not give that up now.
Thankfully, the Government has begun to take steps to make rapid antigen tests free and available. It is great news from a public health standpoint, but profoundly good news ideologically. It signals that in Australia, you don’t need to be rich to be healthy. This is the very ideology that underpins this website. When I operate in bulk, I can sell products at a better price to people all around the country. I’m proud of that. There is a civic responsibility for those called into healthcare, and I like contributing to that in any way that I can.
Whilst it has been difficult to smell a RAT up until now, I am pleased to say that they are on their way to a pharmacy near you.
Here is a little step by step on how to do a RAT to guarantee the most accurate result. Many of my customers were not quite getting it right and wasting a test that has been as rare as hen’s teeth. These tips come to your care of Dr Eric Levi, an Ear Nose and Throat specialist from Melbourne.
- “Go flat. Aim back. Go low. Go slow.” The nasal cavity actually goes backwards and down into your head, not up. If you try swabbing up, you are actually prodding the narrow roof of the nasal cavity. You won’t get an accurate reading, all you will get is a few sneezes and a fair bit of pain. You need to be going 2-3 cm backwards.
- You can’t just scrape the inside of the nose. You know the area you can get to with your finger (when no one is looking, obviously). That is mainly just hair skin. It doesn’t give the best sample. We are actually looking for the mucosa which lines the back of the nasal cavity
- Count it out. It is going to feel a little unusual with something in the back of your nasal cavity, but the longer you leave it in there, twisting and turning, the more accurate your reading will be. If the package recommends 15 seconds, actually time 15 seconds. It may feel like forever, but it is worth getting right.
The one thing to keep in mind when using a rapid antigen test is that they are less accurate than a full PCR test. They will occasionally report a false negative test – that is, you actually have COVID, but the test indicates that you do not. If you have tested negative on a RAT, but still feel symptomatic, I would recommend acting as though you are positive for the next 24 hours (which will involve isolation from others) and then taking a second RAT or going to get a PCR. Don’t let this dissuade you though. All the experts are suggesting that they are more than accurate enough to play a pivotal role in reducing the spread of Omicron in Australia.
As always, if you are feeling very unwell, having difficulty breathing, experiencing heart pain or vomiting, you should proceed to the hospital. It’s just not worth the risk.
Yours in health,