Antibody and viral testing for COVID-19 will eventually help New Mexico officials make better decisions as the body of knowledge increases, said Dr. David Scrase, secretary of the state Human Services Department.
The state is gearing up to increase antibody testing, joining other states in what Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called a “mad dash” for testing equipment and chemicals.
Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe announced last week it is offering an antibody test and TriCore Reference Laboratories plans to roll out the platform Monday in Albuquerque and elsewhere.
There are limits to what antibody testing will tell public officials on how to deal with the coronavirus.
“We don’t know if having antibodies means you are immune to the virus,” Scrase said at a recent news conference. “Or if they do provide immunity, how long that immunity will last.”
He said antibodies to seasonal influenza that provide immunity can last up to a year.
Officials here and around the country point out that the virus has been active in the country for only four months.
“A vaccine is the end game,” Scrase said. “Almost all of us have to be immune to it.”
Lujan Grisham also said that some of the antibody tests on the market had high rates of false positives – indicating a person had antibodies for the coronavirus when they didn’t.
The state has identified three tests that have been approved for blood/antibody testing out of dozens being marketed.
Getting the supplies for laboratories to use the tests will be a challenge and Lujan Grisham said states will be competing to obtain, not just the tests, but the chemicals to use them.
Biotechnology companies supplying reagents for active COVID-19 tests are having difficulty with the demand, according to state officials.
The state is negotiating with Abbott Laboratories to buy antibody test reagents when they become available.
The state has not announced how it intends to use the antibody tests – whether for a direct medical purpose like finding plasma donors or a widespread random test initiative to determine the number of people who had the virus but were never tested.
Antibodies are proteins that bind to and destroy a virus by preventing it from reproducing and spreading an infection.
Some tests can measure the number of antibodies in a person’s system. Others detect only whether antibodies are present in someone’s system.
The World Health Organization has issued guidance that some of the antibodies the body produces in response to COVID-19 are similar to or the same as antibodies produced in response to other viruses, including some that cause the common cold.
The antibody tests were made available by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under an emergency regulation called an Emergency Use Authorization.
A test made available under an emergency authorization has not undergone the same type of review as an FDA fully-approved test.
The FDA issues emergency authorizations like this when there are no adequate, approved or alternative tests. Tests must also satisfy criteria for effectiveness in the detection of the virus that causes COVID-19.