Do Oversensitive COVID-19 PCR Tests Explain the Push to Vaccinate Everyone?

AP Photo/Marta Lavandier

The COVID-19 pandemic has been full of public health measures never undertaken before. One of these was widespread testing of asymptomatic individuals using facilities not connected to a primary care provider. People went to a testing site, did not receive a clinical assessment, and often received their results directly from the lab or testing site. The most common test was a real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction test, commonly referred to as a PCR test.

If their test was positive, the testing site told patients to quarantine for 14 days and notify their contacts to get tested. If they developed symptoms, doctors and hospitals instructed by the NIH told people to stay home until they suffered from shortness of breath. There was no review of results or physical assessment done by a healthcare provider, which was highly unusual on several levels.

To determine if someone was infected with COVID-19, the PCR test amplified the sample to detect gene targets. The PCR tests were never intended to identify a live viral particle capable of replication. They simply detected genes contained within the virus. PCR tests can detect these genes in recovered patients and those who have a natural immune response for some time after recovery or successful elimination of the virus.

The amplification is measured in cycles. The number of cycles at which the PCR detects the target genes is called the cycle threshold (Ct). In most labs, including in the U.S., the sample needed to cross a Ct of 40 to be negative. The number of cycles has an inverse relationship with the relative amount of viral material in the body. So, a lower Ct would indicate a higher viral load, making the genes easier to find.

A New York Times article in August 2020 posited that only 10% of the positive PCR tests in the United States might have an individual capable of transmitting the infection. A more rigorous study in September 2020 found that only 3% of specimens at a Ct of 35 or above could replicate, an ability required to be infectious.

The researchers recommended a Ct of no more than 30 to make public health decisions. A meta-analysis in December suggested a Ct as low as 24, depending on the timing of exposure and symptom onset. Then in January of this year, the WHO went a step further and said the PCR test on its own was not diagnostic for COVID-19:

Most PCR assays are indicated as an aid for diagnosis, therefore, health care providers must consider any result in combination with timing of sampling, specimen type, assay specifics, clinical observations, patient history, confirmed status of any contacts, and epidemiological information.

Now a Journal of Infection editorial claims large numbers of false-positive PCR tests.  It reviews results from a lab that processed 80% of the tests in the city of Munster in Germany. They utilized a Ct of 25 for a cutoff, as recommended by the UK Office for National Statistics for population studies. They did a second analysis at a Ct of 30. Of 162,457 individuals, 4,164 tested positive. The study’s authors conclude:

In light of our findings that more than half of individuals with positive PCR test results are unlikely to have been infectious, RT-PCR test positivity should not be taken as an accurate measure of infectious SARS-CoV-2 incidence.

The study that the authors of the editorial reference from the UK states:

Most people infected with SARS-CoV-2 are contagious for 4–8 days. Specimens are generally not found to contain culture-positive (potentially contagious) virus beyond day 9 after the onset of symptoms, with most transmission occurring before day 5. This timing fits with the observed patterns of virus transmission (usually 2 days before to 5 days after symptom onset), which led public health agencies to recommend a 10-day isolation period. The short window of transmissibility contrasts with a median 22–33 days of PCR positivity (longer with severe infections and somewhat shorter among asymptomatic individuals). This suggests that 50–75% of the time an individual is PCR positive, they are likely to be post-infectious.

Once SARS-CoV-2 replication has been controlled by the immune system, RNA levels detectable by PCR on respiratory secretions fall to very low levels when individuals are much less likely to infect others. The remaining RNA copies can take weeks, or occasionally months, to clear, during which time PCR remains positive.

Communications from the CDC reinforce the idea we have a significant problem with oversensitive PCR tests in this country. In the last update for laboratories on PCR testing, the CDC still uses a Ct of 40 as the minimum to be crossed before a test can be considered negative. However, when they published instructions for health departments to monitor for reinfection with COVID-19, the agency was only interested in PCR tests with a Ct of 33 or less. When the CDC sent out guidelines to monitor post-vaccination infections, it only investigated tests with a Ct of 28 or less.

The entire goal of public health monitoring for infectious disease is to identify the ill and those likely to transmit the illness. The public, in this case, was subjected to much more sensitive tests that the CDC was willing to accept for their internal monitoring of reinfection and post-vaccination infection. These facts alone should raise questions.

The questions should become much louder when the public recalls how the number of positive tests, which the public health experts and corporate media incorrectly referred to as cases, were used. Public health officials and politicians used them to lock you down, close your child’s school, shutter businesses, and make everyone cover their faces. Now estimates are that at least half were false positives.

The CDC, FDA, and NIH know this. Rather than admit their overreaction based on a test incapable of providing an accurate epidemiological picture, the agencies tell people to get vaccinated even if they had COVID-19. They understand a significant number of people, especially those that were never ill, never had COVID-19. These individuals may mistakenly think they are immune due to a positive PCR test over the last year.

Related: The Top 10 Lies About President Trump’s Response to the Coronavirus

Luckily with the news about natural immunity, there is also a way for people to confirm their exposure if they are in a group with a high risk for severe COVID-19. A T-detect test is the most specific one available and can be ordered online without a doctor’s order. If the cost is prohibitive and your physician will not request an antibody test, a blood donation through the Red Cross will return a result. It is unbelievable that this step is necessary for individual peace of mind simply because public health agencies did not follow easily accessible science last summer.