Electron microscope picture of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, released by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020. (Associated Press)

B.C. seeks antibody tests to determine COVID-19 ‘community immunity’

Some tests look ‘very promising,’ Dr. Bonnie Henry says

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control is examining 17 different immune system tests with people who are known to have recovered from COVID-19, checking their accuracy before deploying tests to measure what is often called “herd immunity” from the coronavirus pandemic.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prefers the term “community immunity,” rather than the veterinary reference. Like other public health experts, she sees “serology tests” of immune system response as a key to easing restrictions on business and other public activity. Currently she expects some public health orders could be eased or withdrawn by the second half of May.

“The B.C. CDC lab has been doing testing on 17 different types of serology tests here in B.C.,” Henry said at her April 28 briefing on the pandemic. “There are a couple that are very promising.”

Residents at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver and others who have been confirmed to have recovered from COVID-19 are taking part in the studies.

“One of the key things that we need to do is to be able to have people that we know have the disease and test them and see if their antibodies show up,” Henry said. “Some of the people who have recovered from COVID-19 are in line to help us validate, as we call it, the test. That is happening even this week.”

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Blood samples have also been stored from a range of B.C. residents of different ages, waiting for an antibody test to be verified and selected. One focus will be whether some people had antibodies before the outbreak started.

“Then we are doing another cross-section of the population early in May, because that gives some time for antibodies to be developed for those who have it,” Henry said. “We will do it again in six months.”

The World Health Organization remains cautious about the potential for immunity for those who have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the technical term for the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We expect that most people who are infected with COVID-19 will develop an antibody response that will provide some level of protection,” the WHO said on Twitter April 25. “What we don’t yet know is the level of protection or how long it will last. We are working with scientists around the world to better understand the body’s response to COVID-19 infection. So far, no studies have answered these important questions.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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