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Antibody testing can shed light on COVID-19 immunity, says expert

Last Updated Jun 28, 2020 at 12:15 pm MDT

CALGARY (CITYNEWS) – Alberta has been a leader in testing when it comes to COVID-19, and now the province is taking another step forward.

The government of Alberta is committing $10 million to antibody testing, with the hopes of learning more about the virus.

Experts say the data collected could help us gain a larger understanding of COVID-19 immunity.

“The antibody test is where there is going to be a blood sample taken, and for now it means a poke, and send that off to the lab and see if you have antibodies,” said Dr. Jim Kellner of the Cumming School of Medicine.

“What that is measuring is not if you have an infection today, but have you had COVID-19 at some point in the past.”

A member of the Canadian COVID-19 immunity task force, Dr. Kellner is leading a study that investigates how children are responding to the virus.

“We’re going to test 1,000 children, some of whom have been diagnosed with COVID-19, some of whom have tested negative, and some of whom are healthy” said Kellner. “We’re going to test those children every six months over two years and look at the antibodies.”

Many people had chicken pox growing up, meaning our bodies created antibodies to fight off the disease, giving us immunity. Experts are trying to understand if COVID-19 immunity would work the same way, and how long it would last.

“Many infections are not like that,” said Kellner. “You’ll develop immunity but not for a lifetime. It might last for sometimes months or years, but it will often get away. But when we get vaccines, that’s what we’re looking to do is to provide that immunity.”

Experts say the antibody test is most accurate three weeks after someone has been infected with COVID-19.

“You’re not going to get an immunity passport saying you’re positive, therefore you’re protected, therefore you’re bullet proof,” said Kellner. “That immunity passport concept doesn’t exist anywhere.

“I wish it were that simple. It’s not that simple.”

Unlike the nasal test, antibody tests are not readily available to the public. The province of Alberta is instead focusing on testing people within specific study groups.

Antibody tests may soon be available, though, through a physician or pharmacist. Experts warn that these rapid tests may not yield the most accurate results.