Saturday, August 28, 2021
Yesterday, I wrote here about what I'm hearing about use of antibody testing in some long-term care facilities in Pennsylvania. The more I read about antibody testing for COVID-19, the more I'm surprised by the state of the science and the level of apparent uncertainty about appropriate uses for such tests.
I've read published articles suggesting multiple explanations for why such tests have not been widely used as part of the response to COVID-19 and variant infections including:
- Lack of availability of commercially-based testing products
- Lack of reliable testing products
- Lack of FDA protocols to establish reliable tests
- Disagreements (or lack of clarity) over what level of antibodies should be considered "protective"
- Concern that any test results could be misused
- Lack of easily administered tests, especially tests that would not require medically-trained persons for blood draws
See, for example, these two articles by John Hopkins Center researchers: Rachel M. West et al, Antibody (Serology) Tests for COVID-19: A Case Study (May 2021); Rachel West, et al, COVID-19 Antibody Tests: A Valuable Public Health Tool with Limited Relevance to Individuals (November 2020).
As a non-scientist I can understand some of these concerns for the first half of this pandemic, where the issue was whether and to what extent actual infection would provide protection against reinfection. But, with almost 9 months of publicly administered vaccines, it is troubling to think that there could still be concerns about reliability of antibody testing following those vaccinations. Can an illness be called a "breakthrough" infection if the level of immunity wasn't being tested? Or rather, if the immunity status couldn't be reliably detected?
In any event, as I dig deeper, it seems that the U.K. is moving forward this month (August 2021) to "begin offering COVID-19 antibody testing to the general public...for the first time" via a home-administered finger-prick test. From a Reuters report that leans on other media sources:
The government's new programme is intended to produce data on antibody protections for people following infection by different coronavirus variants, according to details of the programme published by multiple media outlets, including Sky News and BBC.
From Tuesday, anyone aged 18 or over in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, will be able to opt in to the programme when receiving a PCR test, Sky News reported.
Participants, on testing positive for COVID-19, will be sent two finger-prick tests to complete at home to inform the UK Health Security Agency of the antibody response to different coronavirus variants, BBC reported.