What are antibody tests and can they get the world back to work?

tests

(Drew Hays, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Harry Kretchmer, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • Tests are already being used to test frontline workers in the US; citizens in Wuhan are being tested and 10-minute test kits are now available to buy.
  • However, questions remain about the quality of tests and the strength of resistance that antibodies give those infected.

They’ve been held up as key to resuming life as we know it by public figures, including the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.

While some experts and policy-makers have cast doubt on their accuracy, it looks like antibody tests will be with us soon, as companies and governments around the world invest in production and fast-track approvals.

So how do they work and could they really help people and economies end the lockdown?

Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
The antibody testing process.
Image: Abbott.

What are antibody tests?

In simple terms, antibody tests – also called serology tests – show who has been infected and recovered. The body makes antibodies in response to many illnesses, including COVID-19.

The tests searching for valuable IgG antibodies come in two main forms: rapid tests and assays.

The most simple rapid tests can be used at home, typically involving pricking a finger and they can get results in minutes.

Assays – which involve sending blood samples to a lab for analysis – are generally more accurate but take much longer. So governments ideally want good rapid tests.

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

A new strain of Coronavirus, COVID 19, is spreading around the world, causing deaths and major disruption to the global economy.

Responding to this crisis requires global cooperation among governments, international organizations and the business community, which is at the centre of the World Economic Forum’s mission as the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

The Forum has created the COVID Action Platform, a global platform to convene the business community for collective action, protect people’s livelihoods and facilitate business continuity, and mobilize support for the COVID-19 response. The platform is created with the support of the World Health Organization and is open to all businesses and industry groups, as well as other stakeholders, aiming to integrate and inform joint action.

As an organization, the Forum has a track record of supporting efforts to contain epidemics. In 2017, at our Annual Meeting, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was launched – bringing together experts from government, business, health, academia and civil society to accelerate the development of vaccines. CEPI is currently supporting the race to develop a vaccine against this strand of the coronavirus.

How useful are the antibodies?

That is not yet fully understood. Whereas childhood infection by chicken pox can give long-lasting immunity, it is unclear how long COVID-19 resistance lasts.

And while most people who contract COVID-19 appear to produce antibodies, experts are unsure how long they remain and whether they have enough power to protect against future infections.

The hope is that COVID-19 antibodies will behave in a similar way to those the body makes against SARS, a disease that has a lot of similar genetic material. Immunity against SARS peaks at around four months and offers protection for roughly two to three years.

How soon will we see antibody tests?

Tests are already being used in some countries that were hit early by the virus. In Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 first emerged, people returning to work are being tested so authorities can build a picture of immunity.

In the West, their use is not yet widespread, although some organizations are now rolling out tests to frontline staff, with one private British medical clinic urging the government to invest in inexpensive South Korean Sugentech kits.

Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
Some kits claim to be able to detect COVID-19 antibodies in 10 minutes.
Image: Sugentech

However, this caution is changing. New York’s Cuomo has announced 2,000 tests a day for the city’s frontline workers; he plans to expand that to 100,000 a day.

Across America dozens of manufacturers are seeking fast-track Food and Drug Administration approval for both lab-based and more rapid point-of-care antibody tests. US health authorities expect the tests to be available in a week, subject to FDA approval.

But elsewhere there has been more caution. The UK has bought 3.5 million antibody tests, but has not yet found one reliable enough for widespread use.

What are the concerns around antibody tests?

While antibody testing has been a pillar of many governments’ strategies for economic recovery, there are worries about the accuracy of the tests, particularly rapid testing kits.

The UK says its tests on various antibody testing technologies have been disappointing, failing to spot those who have had milder cases of the virus.

Elsewhere there are concerns that in some governments’ haste to ease economic restrictions, decisions to approve test kits could be rushed. In America, for example, the FDA is allowing tests to be developed without standard review procedures, although the FDA says it is reviewing test data.

Some researchers have also questioned the strength of antibodies and whether they will be strong enough to fight the virus. Researchers at Fudan University in Shanghai analysed blood samples from 175 recovered coronavirus patients after they were discharged from hospital and found surprisingly low levels of antibodies against the virus.

However, these are preliminary results, not yet published in a journal; further research is necessary.

Could the tests ease the lockdown?

Early on, many governments saw antibody testing as a cornerstone of the phased easing of lockdowns.

Last month, Germany was one of many countries reportedly considering issuing ‘immunity certificates’ based on testing.

However, with concerns persisting about the potential for false positives and false negatives in tests, it looks like in the short term at least, antibody tests can only play a supporting role in lifting restrictions.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Sexual abuse of elderly likely to ‘grow dramatically’, UN expert says

EU-Vietnam: Council adopts decisions to sign trade and investment agreements

Afghanistan: UN ‘unequivocally condemns’ attack in Kabul

The European Union and Central Asia: New opportunities for a stronger partnership

More than half a million Rohingya in Bangladesh get ID cards for first time: UN refugee agency

MEPs back update of rail passenger rights across EU

This top-10 of business risks misses the biggest of them all: climate change

New UN bullying report calls for ‘safe, inclusive’ schools for all children

To build the workforce of the future, we need to revolutionize how we learn

These are the cities where people work the longest hours

ILO: Progress on gender equality at work remains inadequate

ECB to support only banks not Peoples

The remote doctor in the 21st century

Quality Education on the table at the European Parliament

EU budget 2021-2027: Commission calls on leaders to set out a roadmap towards an autumn agreement

UN-backed intercultural dialogue forum urged to keep working to ‘bridge gap between the like-minded’

Schools must look to the future when connecting students to the internet

Yemen: UN Envoy ‘guilty’ of optimistic hope that war is ‘nearing the end’

How public private partnerships must evolve to create social impact

The EU Commission openly repudiates the austere economic policies

How one traumatised child survived genocide and started a movement for mental health

Take medical use of cannabis seriously, say MEPs

‘Save Tuvalu; save the world’; UN chief echoes rallying cry from front lines of global climate emergency

INTERVIEW: Poverty, education and inclusion top new General Assembly President’s priority list

Mediterranean migrant drownings should spur greater action by European countries, urge UN agencies

Is Europe misjudging its abilities to endure more austerity and unemployment?

France sneaks into the Geneva US-Iran talks to claim its business share in Tehran

During the coronavirus pandemic, we must fight for LGBTQ rights more than ever

Here’s how China is going green

‘Critical’ window of opportunity closing fast in Iraq, Security Council hears

COVID-19: How leaders can create a new and better normal

Businesses are thriving, societies are not. Time for urgent change

EU makes key TTIP document public as protests get louder

This is how New York plans to end its car culture

How smart tech helps cities fight terrorism and crime

Effective multilateralism the antidote to today’s ‘divisions’, Holy See tells UN Assembly

Building an Inclusive ICT Innovation Ecosystem

Stability in Europe has no chances because of Ukraine

Venezuelan exodus to Ecuador reaches record levels: UN refugee agency steps up aid

Indonesia is buzzing with entrepreneurial spirit. And others in ASEAN aren’t far behind

Crime and drugs in West and Central Africa: Security Council highlights ‘new alarming trends’

UN warns of ‘deteriorating climate’ for human rights defenders in Guatemala

EU and India re-open talks over strategic partnership while prepare for a Free Trade Agreement

Your smartphone may know more about your mental health than you

‘Air bridge’ vaccination operation begins for Ebola-hit communities in DR Congo

Thursday’s Daily Brief: Poverty report reveals ‘vast inequalities’, measles compounds DRC Ebola woes, Guterres visits Mozambique, Bangladesh update, freedom of expression online

FROM THE FIELD: facing up to the extreme mental health pressures of conflict

Those who produce food are among world’s hungriest – UN rights expert

Economy on a steady rise in Latin America and Caribbean region ‘despite international turbulence’ – UN report

Parliament adopts new rules for short-stay visas

Britain’s poet laureate has created a prize to highlight poetry about the climate crisis

Collective action now, the only way to meet global challenges, Guterres reaffirms in annual report

UN experts warn Assange arrest exposes him to risk of serious human rights violations

MEPs adopt new Fisheries Partnership with Morocco including Western Sahara

Guinea President Alpha Condé: “We must tackle the root causes of migration”

Migrants: ‘A powerful driver’ of economic growth, ‘dynamism and understanding’

MWC 2016 LIVE: Mobile Connect availability hits 2B

Commission reports on the risks of investor citizenship and residence schemes in the EU and outlines steps to address them

How to build a paradise for women. A lesson from Iceland

Iran: BBC and other broadcast journalists harassed; families threatened – UN experts

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s