At a flotation therapy studio in Marina Del Rey, the sensory deprivation tank is empty, but antibody tests for the coronavirus are selling at $149. Customers of a botox clinic in Venice don't even have to get out of their cars to get tested; a worker collects blood samples with the prick of a finger. A banner for a clinic in Las Vegas advertises antibody tests and throws in a doctor visit for $169. And $125 antibody tests have recently been added to the menu at a chiropractic clinic in Florida that also offers libido-boosting vitamins and nonsurgical face-lifts. The test-takers, from nurses and firefighters to the unemployed, seek a sense of certainty.
LOS ANGELES/CHICAGO/TORONTO – As the United States works overtime to screen thousands for the novel coronavirus, a new blood test offers the chance to find out who may have immunity -- a potential game-changer in the battle to contain infections and get the economy back on track. Several academic laboratories and medical companies are rushing to produce these blood tests, which can quickly identify disease-fighting antibodies in people who already have been infected but may have had mild symptoms or none at all. This is different from the current, sometimes hard-to-come-by diagnostic tests that draw on a nasal swab to confirm active infection. "Ultimately, this (antibody test) might help us figure out who can get the country back to normal," said Florian Krammer, a professor in vaccinology at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine. "People who are immune could be the first people to go back to normal life and start everything up again."
A blood antibody (or serology) test that determines with incredible accuracy if someone has ever been infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus has received quick emergency-use approval (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It was developed by Swiss multinational healthcare giant, F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is SARS-CoV-2, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The Roche antibody test, "Elecsys Anti-SARS-CoV-2," is 100% accurate at detecting antibodies in the blood and 99.8% accurate at ruling out the presence of antibodies (otherwise called the specificity rate). This means it provides no false negatives and very few false-positive tests. These rates help determine if a person has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2.
Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning to countries that were giving out "immunity passports" to people who had had the COVID-19 infection and were tested for antibodies for it. The idea behind these passports was that those with "immunity" could travel for work purposes and be protected against reinfection. In its statement, the WHO said: "At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an'immunity passport' or'risk-free certificate'. People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may therefore increase the risks of continued transmission."
In late 2019, China reported a cluster of atypical pneumonia cases of unknown etiology in Wuhan. The causative agent was identified as a new betacoronavirus, called severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) (1). The virus rapidly spread across the globe and caused a pandemic. Sequencing of the viral genome allowed for the development of nucleic acid–based tests that have since been widely used for the diagnosis of acute (current) SARS-CoV-2 infections (2). Development of serological assays, which measure the antibody responses induced by SARS-CoV-2 infection (past but not current infections), took longer.