What happens to your corona cotton pad anyway?

Chances are that you have already had a cotton pad in your nose in a GGD test street. Between July and October, at least 2.8 million corona-virus tests were done in such test streets. But where do all these cotton buds go and where does your body material end up?

CCEit on 3 looked it out and showed the route of your cotton pad:

Where does my DNA go after a corontest anyway? Someone asked that question on our Instagram account. A simple question, but the answer turns out to be quite complicated. Right up to the corontest in the lab, your cotton swab is easy to follow. But what happens to it afterwards is more difficult to verify.

Theoretically, the sample of your cotton pad is used for the corontest and then, after a maximum of three months, burned. But the practice is not so clear.

Range of labs

The cotton buds end up in one of over 60 labs; from commercial labs, hospital labs to the RIVM lab. They all have their own rules. Most of them adhere to international standards, agreements on how they store genetic material, for example, but that does not apply to all labs.

Three larger labs have a contract with the government, stating that residual material will be destroyed after three months. Other labs don‘t have such a contract.

Laboratories can have many reasons to keep material longer, or to engage in anonymised scientific research. In this way, they can better understand and fight diseases. Keeping that can be very important. Thus, the current most commonly used corontest is made with old SARS material.

Coronamsters may also be used for further research. But what exactly is allowed according to the law, especially the Medical Treatment Agreement Act (Wgbo), is not always clear. Therefore, a new law in the making that should regulate the use of body material more tightly.

No rural image

In practice, there is no body that keeps track of what happens to samples from covid tests nationally. No one Diecceit at 3 spoke knows if all labs handle the rules in the same way, or what is actually in a cooling.

Scientists emphasize that there are careful procedures for whether and how the material is used. Academic labs in particular have long experience with this. They test the use on international standards for labs and on what is in the law. And they say they only do research if this is in the public interest.

But the fact is that labs for dealing with samples mainly draw up rules themselves and test them themselves: self-regulation. And there may also be commercial interests.

There is a supervisory body that checks the policies of labs, the Accreditation Board, but not all labs are covered by that body. And they emphatically do not check for what happens to samples in the end or how long they are in the cooling.

This supervision does not appear to be with anyone: not with the Dutch Data Protection Authority (they only deal with the processing of personal data, not with body material), not with the inspection in health care (they do not enforce this law) and not with the medical-ethical review committees (which also do not enforce this law).

So complex that Ministry is wrong

What about the use of samples is so complicated, that CCEit on 3 also received incorrect information from involved parties several times.

For example, the Ministry of Health thought that medical-ethical review committees assess what can happen to the samples from the GGD test streets and that the government has agreements with all labs on the destruction of samples after three months. Both are not right.

Your rights

The law also gives you rights, say lawyers Diecceit spoke at 3. If your body material is not used anonymised, you must actively give permission to do so. And if the residual material is used without a link to your personal data, anonymously, you do not have to give permission, but you must also be informed about it. You have the option to object.

In practice, the obligation is grey area. Because to object, you need to know that your material is being used for scientific research. And that’s not always clear to you.

According to the dome of the GGDs, they provide information about this in an online privacy statement. Following questions from CCEIT on 3, that statement has now been extended, but it remains to be asked whether that is sufficient.

There is, however, an exception: under the public health law, a GGD may carry out research on your body material without your knowledge, if this is necessary for the direct control of an outbreak.