Operating a COVID PCR testing device and administering a COVID-19 vaccine Q&A

Q: Can I perform a PCR COVID testing device or administer a COVID-19 vaccine?

The PHO order dated November 16, 2020, speaks to COVID-19 screening activities. The order applies to dietitians and includes performing a nasopharyngeal swab or mouth rinse for analysis, provided a dietitian has received training[1] to do so safely and competently. Dietitians need to be a Health Authority (HA) employee, complete a training program and be assessed as competent by the HA or medical health officer prior to doing the sample collection. The order does not permit dietitians to perform analytical and diagnostic activities such as operating a PCR device.

For information, PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction and is a method used to make copies of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA tests can also detect viral DNA. Public health laboratories in Canada and around the world use DNA testing to diagnose COVID-19. This test is considered the gold standard to diagnose active COVID-19 infection in patients with symptoms. Testing devices may be intended for laboratory use, point-of-care or self-testing[2]. As per the BC Ministry of Health policy on point-of-care testing[3], practitioners interpreting, and/or performing PCR must do so within their scope of practice. PCR testing is not within scope of dietetic practice. The definition of “dietetics” can be found in the BC Health Professions Act’s Dietitians Regulation. Within a health authority and designated health facility for testing, use of a PCR device is limited to authorized professionals who have received appropriate training to perform PCR testing.

The PHO order dated March 24, 2021 includes the current list of health professionals authorized to administer immunizations under specific circumstances and outlines required training to do so. Dietitians are not included in this list in British Columbia.

If dietitians are requested to be trained in performing activities that do not fall under the PHO order, such as PCR testing or immunization, dietitians need to advise their employers that they are not currently authorized to do so. Dietitians should also consider that their liability insurance policy may not cover such activities as they are not within the dietetic scope, even though the intention to lend a helping hand during the pandemic is commendable.

As PHO updates are published, the CDBC will communicate with registrants to provide the most up-to-date information that is pertinent to dietitians. In the context of supporting pandemic efforts, if dietitians or their employers would like to express a need or specific circumstances where it would be useful to perform activities that are currently not within dietetic scope, they may reach out to BC Medical Health Officers in their region or the College to discuss it further.

[1] http://www.bccdc.ca/Health-Professionals-Site/Documents/BCCDC_PHL_Updated_nCoV_Lab_Guidance.pdf

[2] https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-health-products/covid19-industry/medical-devices/testing/nucleic-acid-devices.html

[3] https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/practitioner-professional-resources/pharmacare/resources-related-to-drug-programs-and-policies-in-bc-and-canada/poct-policy



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