Global Health

What’s the latest on coronavirus antibody tests?

A laboratory technician is seen at the Inselspital Universitaetsspital Bern university hospital during researches for a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bern, Switzerland April 22, 2020. Picture taken April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann - RC29EG9SEVTN

A new antibody test has been developed for COVID-19, in the UK. Image: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Charlotte Edmond
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Global Health?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Global Health is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Global Health

  • A new antibody test has been approved by the UK after an independent evaluation showed it had a high degree of accuracy and specificity.
  • The test, developed by Roche, is one of a number approved for use internationally.
  • Such tests are a key feature in many governments’ plans to relax lockdown.
  • But uncertainty remains over how much protection from the virus is provided by past infection.

A new test to determine if someone has been infected with coronavirus has been released onto the market.

According to its developer, Swiss pharma giant Roche, the antibody test “has a specificity greater than 99.8% and sensitivity of 100%”, pinpointing antibodies to COVID-19 present in blood samples.

Antibody tests – which check the blood for the proteins produced by our bodies’ immune systems to fight infections – have been identified by a number of countries as key to tackling the spread of the virus and loosening lockdowns, as they can show who has been exposed to the disease even if they had been asymptomatic.

Have you read?

After independent testing by Public Health England found the Roche test to be highly specific and accurate it became the first coronavirus antibody test approved in the UK. A second test, from Abbott Laboratories, has since also been approved in the UK. Both also have approval for use from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Number of registered COVID-19 clinical trials worldwide May 4, 2020, by region Published by Matej Mikulic, May 4, 2020  According to ClinicalTrials.gov, there are 1,616 studies currently registered which investigate the current coronavirus disease (COVID-19). This statistic shows the total number of results from a search of
There are over 1,600 ongoing registered studies into the current coronavirus. Image: Statista

How does it work?

Unlike swab tests, which indicate whether a person has coronavirus at the point they were tested, blood-based antibody tests can show whether or not someone has been infected in the past.

The Roche test and others like it rely on a machine to identify the presence of antibodies against the virus that causes COVID-19 – SARS-CoV-2 – in blood samples. It identifies antibodies from at least 14 days after infection. And the test is specific for this strain of coronavirus – so it won’t be confused by antibodies to other coronaviruses, such as the common cold.

It is a different type of test to the home finger prick blood tests which have also become available. There is still hope that such finger prick tests could help provide rapid results, but there have been some concerns over their accuracy.

Discover

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

What does a positive result mean?

Widespread use of such tests will tell governments what proportion of the population has had COVID-19, and better understand how it has spread.

But the World Health Organization has warned against using the results of diagnostic tests for "immunity passports" that would enable individuals to travel or return to work. The body is concerned about the accuracy of some tests available and points out there is still a lot of uncertainty around the degree of protection past infection gives.

People who assume they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may end up ignoring public health advice, it says.

There is also concern that such passports could lead to discrimination, creating a divide in society with, for example, employers favouring those who could prove previous infection.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Global HealthCOVID-19
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

5 critical drivers of women and children’s health in under-served rural and refugee communities

Neema Kaseje, Robert Metzke, Alaa Murabit and Michael Newsome

February 15, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum