Starting from next week, prescription-free, over-the-counter Covid tests will be available to buy at Spanish pharmacies.
Minister of Health Carolina Darias, announced the news on Tuesday, stressing that allowing the public to purchase these tests over the counter, will allow “faster identification of suspected positive cases and even asymptomatic cases, as is happening in the population from 12 to 29 years of age and to control the progression of the pandemic in the most effective way possible.”
The Spanish government has been under pressure for some time now, to allow pharmacies to sell the Covid self-testing kits over the counter and the Health Minister confirmed that this will be allowed from July 20, admitting that "The requirement of prescription was a barrier."
The kits will be available without prescription and will consist of antigen and antibody tests that will provide a fast result. The time required for the antigen test is only 15 minutes, however, it has the disadvantage that the reliability of the result is considerably lower than that of a PCR test.
The antigen test works by detecting the virus protein (protein S), generally through nasopharyngeal or nasal exudate, although in some cases it can be done with a saliva sample.
The antibody test, on the other hand, does not specifically detect the coronavirus infection, but rather the level of antibodies in the blood that the body has or has not developed if it has been in contact with the virus. The results for the antibody test are obtained within a few minutes but the time does vary between brands.
There are two indicators, for the two antibodies that it usually measures, they are IgM and IgG. The first to appear are the IgM; they usually appear between 7 and 10 days after coming into contact with the infected person. IgG appears between 10 and 15 days later.
If you have a positive test result for IgM antibodies, it means that you have been exposed to the virus recently. It does not, however, specify if the infection is still ongoing or if it has in fact already passed.
You should also bear in mind that during the first days the virus is more difficult to detect, so it can be negative but you could still be infected.
In regards to the IgG antibodies, a positive result indicates that the person has been exposed to the virus and indicates that an infection is not necessarily ongoing but may have occurred some time ago, possibly even months.
The Spanish government's radical change in position comes after months of pressure from communities and the pharmaceutical sector. For the past week, Spanish pharmacies have had thousands of self-diagnostic tests in their warehouses but they could only be released into the strictly controlled health market (doctor’s surgery’s hospitals and private clinics etc). Unlike other European countries, such as Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Portugal, where these products have even been sold in supermarkets since last spring.
The Spanish Ministry hasn't yet published any pricing guideline but in Portugal, the price per testing kit is between 7 and 10 euros and in France, the government has fixed the price at 5.20 euros.