April 14, 2020
Our Antibodies, Ourselves
Serology testing is rapidly becoming more available. With the availability of antibody testing, comes a host of new questions. Many states are testing groups of randomly selected people in an effort to gain information about how COVID-19 spreads. Antibody testing will also help researchers pinpoint the fatality rate more accurately. Because the bulk of testing done thus far, has been to determine if a person was carrying the virus, and because most of that testing has been done on people who were symptomatic, the numbers regarding recovery and deaths are not as accurate as they need to be.
Tests have also begun to become available to the citizenry. Some clinics, such as Fleur Women’s Health in Rancho Mirage, California, are offering testing to anyone who meets the criteria. ARCpoint Labs (with facilities across the country) has developed an antibody test that requires only the prick of a finger. Their location in Monterey, California had offered drive-through finger prick antibody testing, and were serving up to three-hundred people a day. The finger prick test costs $68.31 and is not covered by insurance. However, at this time, this ARCpoint location is only offering the more costly ($150.00) COVID-19 antibody test that requires a blood draw, with results taking up to three days.
What is not yet clear is what we will do with our test results. There is discussion around the world of immunity passports. The idea is that a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies and is therefore considered immune would be granted some form of identification vouching for said immunity. This is widely seen as a gateway to businesses being able to reopen and for life as we knew it to begin making a comeback.
There are points that must be considered. Because our knowledge and experience of COVID-19 are not yet vast, it is impossible to say for certain how long immunity will last. Trying to determine the length of time a person who has tested immune will be protected is part of the information that many government-run testing programs are trying to discover. Also, new tests normally undergo much more lengthy development. In light of the urgency of the current situation, many companies have received emergency approval to produce and distribute various solutions, including antibody tests. Some are producing tests even without an emergency go-ahead, but are required to clearly state their lack of FDA approval. Because not enough time has passed for us to develop a complete understanding of this virus, it is impossible for us to be certain how long a potential immunity certificate should be valid. As this is a new virus, by definition, long term data on the expectations we can place on our antibodies are unclear.
As of yet, there is not a national or even state database for those who have tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. The research concerning tracking the spread of the disease and the parameters of immunity will, at least for now, be coming from the group tests discussed above. Many of these studies will be revisiting their subjects for continued testing to track the life of the coronavirus antibodies. While a database of individual test results is not available to private businesses, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is working on “collaboration with state, local and academic partners to monitor COVID-19 disease in the United States.”
It would be technologically possible to create a database that can be checked by vendors before granting admission to a perspective customer. Considering that testing results are a necessary part of researchers learning more about how the virus works and spreads, meaning results are being tracked at least statistically. Another reason that information about who is rich in COVID-19 antibodies could be important is that some treatments involve serum transfusions from those with a strong antibody count to those who are seriously ill from the virus.
Research related to antibody studies is being conducted to ascertain whether, or how likely, reinfection could be. There have been reports of patients becoming re-infected with COVID-19. Each virus is different as is each individual. When we speak of immunity, it is always probable immunity. Although we are not there yet, this does also apply to vaccines. There are so many variables composing any individual’s health status as well as variables in viruses themselves, that absolute prediction is impossible.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health under the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has issued a “Guidance,” stating that pharmacists may administer COVID-19 tests, both serological and diagnostic, which will help make testing more easily accessible. Knowing one’s viral status will be an important part of rejoining society. Unlike diagnostic testing, in the case of antibody testing, positive is the desired outcome. A negative result simply means that an individual has not been exposed to the virus, or has been exposed so recently that antibodies have not yet developed. If you are interested in being tested for COVID-19 antibodies, be sure to check with your preferred location regarding their policies.