Physicians criticize U.K. antibody testing strategy

2020 06 17 20 35 0417 Covid 19 Antibody 400

Medical and public health experts from the U.K. and Switzerland have come out against the quick rollout of COVID-19 antibody testing in England. The group of 12 senior academics and physicians published their concerns in a letter on June 24 in The BMJ.

In the letter, the experts noted that there is no specific clinical indication for an individual to undergo antibody testing and that the assays' performance has not been proven. They also expressed concern that rapid antibody testing might not be the best use of limited resources.

"The assay is being rolled out at an unprecedented pace and scale without adequate assessment, potentially compromising public trust in pathology services in the future," wrote the authors, led by Dr. Monique Andersson, the clinical lead for the department of microbiology at Oxford University Hospitals.

The letter comes after the U.K. government purchased 10 million antibody test kits from Abbott and Roche. The kits were bought based on Public Health England studies demonstrating their efficacy, but one lead author of the studies cautioned there is still not enough data on the level of protection that COVID-19 antibodies provide.

In their letter, the experts echoed that concern, noting the antibody tests are not diagnostic and a positive result does not necessarily indicate immunity. They advised people with a positive antibody test to continue following infection control policies and consider themselves at risk.

The experts also pointed out the lack of openly available data comparing performance of tests, as well as performance data for people from vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, immunocompromised, and Black and minority patients.

While the authors supported rapid diagnostic tests for individuals and public health goals, they stressed that it is paramount for the government to follow the systems in place to deliver "the right result of the right test to the right person at the right time."

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