An advert featuring the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Tindall was reported to the medical regulator over concerns it might increase the risk of spreading coronavirus.
Zara and her husband Mike Tindall appeared in an advert for VHealth Passport, an app which aims to support the sports industry as it seeks to get fans back to stadiums.
The company behind it, VST Enterprises, has said incorrect information has been shared with the regulator, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) - but the professor who reported it insists they are missing the point.
The MHRA said the complaint was outside its remit and has passed it on to the Advertising Standards Authority.
In the advert, Zara is seen taking a coronavirus antibody test, but she is told she is being tested to see if she currently has the virus or previously had it.
An antibody test cannot show if someone can or cannot spread the virus, according to government guidance.
Professor Jon Deeks, from the University of Birmingham, told the BBC: “If people use these tests, they get a negative result and they go and think they haven't got COVID when they could actually still be infectious, that might mean that people don't social distance and so on.
“And that might increase the risk of actually spreading COVID.”
Professor Deeks told Yahoo UK his main concern was with “misuse and promotion of an antibody test to tell people whether they do or do not have a COVID-19 infection” and not the technology of the app.
He said: “I am leading an international team reviewing all the evaluations of antibody tests in collaboration with the WHO – our work has established that you have to wait two weeks after the onset of symptoms for COVID-19 antibody tests to reliably detect previous infection – this work has been cited in the WHO interim guidelines.”
Professor Deeks criticised the phrasing used in the videos, saying: “In all cases the antibody tests are negative and the implication given (and direct words in some cases) is that means you do not have COVID and are therefore ‘safe’.
“You can clearly see on the video that the health professional undertaking the testing tells Zara Phillips that she is not infected with COVID. This is not something you can conclude from an antibody test.”
In a statement, VST Enterprises said: “VST Enterprises believes his concerns are completely unfounded and that it would have been better for him to raise queries or concerns with the company.”
The company said it does not sell COVID-19 tests, and noted the recent improvements in rapid testing for antibodies and antigen. Prof Deeks said while there had been improvements “there are not rapid antibody tests which pick up people at the early stages of infection when they are most infectious”.
Contrary to what the company believes has been said to the regulator, it said: “V-Health Passport’ is not (as alleged) being used as an ‘immunity passport’. It encourages the user to have a regular test cycle to manage their personal contact with the virus which counteracts the very definition of ‘immune’. The test cycle is set by the medical professionals guided by their Governments guidelines/data.”
The statement added: “VST Enterprises has fully engaged with the MHRA concerning Prof Deeks’ ‘concerns’ around rapid tests and immunity passports and VST Enterprises believes it has fully satisfied the MHRA request for clarification that it is not in fact an immunity passport.”
The Tindalls became ambassadors for the VHealth Passport earlier this year, which promises 10 minute rapid testing for three different antibodies.
It then sends the result to an app which displays a green tick to confirm a negative test status.
The company claims the test administered can also “detect and pick up infection as early as three days from exposure”.
An MHRA spokesperson said: “We have investigated V-Health Passport and concluded that this software is not a medical device and as the test kit is being advertised by a third party it does not fall under the remit of the MHRA and we have referred this issue on to the Advertising Standards Authority for further investigation.
“In general, the manufacturer of an antibody test, or any diagnostic test, defines who the intended user of their test is in the instructions for use and the manufacturer must have the evidence that the intended user can use the test in accordance with the instructions.
“Antibody tests are not used for diagnosis but rather to give a better understanding of the prevalence of the virus in different places and therefore cannot be relied upon for protection to COVID-19 or to or detect previous infection.”
In a press release in August about the app, Zara said: “This is a really exciting new technology that has such great potential for the equestrian world. For riders, who are travelling all over the country, and to other countries, this gives reassurance that they have been tested and are negative for COVID.
“And for those working on events including support staff, volunteers and the fans themselves it gives the confidence to come back to the sport we love and have the big events running again.”
Tindall was quoted as saying: “Zara and I both took the test which was literally 1 minute to administer a blood sample and run it through the Bio Sure test kit with our results back in less than 10 minutes.
“The VHealth Passport is test agnostic, so it can work with all and any approved COVID-19 testing kits or lab based testing. Our ‘negative’ test results were then uploaded to our VHealth Passports in under five seconds and it means we get a green tick on a traffic light system on the VHealth Passport app on our phones.
“What this does is give people who use the VHealth Passport system confidence that the people around them are also doing the same thing in a sporting event and have tested negative. Ultimately it’s about getting the fans back safely into major sporting events.”
Zara, who is the daughter of Princess Anne, doesn’t have a royal title, and has never carried out formal royal duties. She is not given any funding through the sovereign grant.
She forged her own career in the equestrian world and has represented Team GB at the Olympics. Her husband Mike is a former England rugby player and was part of the 2003 World Cup winning team.
They have two children and live in Gatcombe Park, Anne’s estate in Gloucestershire.
The Tindalls did not issue a comment when approached by Yahoo UK.
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