Antibody tests will be available to NHS and care staff, eligible patients and care residents in England to see if they have had coronavirus as part of a new national antibody testing programme announced by health and care secretary Matt Hancock.
The new antibody testing programme, which is to start next week, will be prioritised for NHS and care staff, and clinicians will be able to request them for patients in both hospital and social care settings if they deem it appropriate.
‘Highly accurate’ lab-based antibody tests will be used to tell whether someone has already had the virus, to provide accurate data about the antibodies they have developed in response, which should help clinicians and scientists better understand the prevalence of the virus in different regions across the country.
10 million tests have so far have been secured in a ‘landmark deal’ with industry, including Roche Diagnostics and Abbott Laboratories, with further agreements being negotiated with suppliers to supply millions of laboratory-based antibody tests.
The government also stressed that a positive test result for antibodies does not currently mean that the person being tested is immune to COVID-19, and that there is also no firm evidence that the presence of antibodies means someone cannot be re-infected with the virus.
A Public Health England study, called SIREN, is already underway to help answer these questions and establish whether antibodies indicate immunity to COVID-19. A sample of 10,000 healthcare workers are being tested to examine any potential immunity to the virus.
“Our understanding of this virus will only continue to grow as new scientific evidence and studies emerge. This new national testing programme is a very important part of that work,” said Professor John Newton, national coordinator of the UK COVID-19 testing programme.
“COVID-19 is a new disease, and our understanding of the body’s immune response to the virus that causes it is limited. Progress is being made every day, but we do not yet know how long immunity lasts, nor whether having antibodies means a person cannot transmit the virus to others. It is vital that everyone continues to follow social distancing measures, playing their part to halt the spread of infection.”
22nd May 2020