COVID-19 Antibody testing: the missing link for savvy decision-making
Sophie Ash • Special to National Post
Sep 28, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Canada hard with over 130,000 confirmed cases thus far. Yet, we are still a long way from having a vaccine commercially available. Keeping COVID-19 contained is, collectively, all we can do at the moment.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that anyone who has recently come into contact with someone with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, or who is experiencing fever and respiratory issues, should be tested. But PCR testing isn’t always available or accessible. And this “in the moment” test will only detect COVID within a specific time frame.
Antibody testing can accurately determine whether an individual has been infected with COVID-19 weeks or months previously. Using PCR and antibody testing in combination is a great way to determine how many people were infected with coronavirus at a given time.
But how helpful is it to know you’ve had COVID-19 before? You’re only one person, after all.
Prevalence data is useful in that Canada can effectively plan return-to-work strategies and implement stricter infection control procedures based on which population groups appear to be at higher risk. Although, we don’t know yet whether producing antibodies against COVID-19 (indicating you’ve had the infection) actually protects you from contracting the disease again.
For this reason, most provinces across Canada are restricting access to COVID-19 antibody testing so as not to give the impression that antibodies equal immunity. In Quebec, however, physicians are able to prescribe COVID antibody tests in the same way they prescribe tests and medical treatment.
Nicolas Tétreault, PhD, CSPQ, FCACB is the Scientific Director at Biron Health Group: a private lab in Quebec that offers COVID-19 antibody testing. “There is emerging scientific evidence suggesting that antibody testing for COVID-19 could be beneficial for certain individuals and we are seeing an increasing number of prescriptions coming in for this test.”
“COVID-19 antibody testing could benefit certain individuals.”DR. NICOLAS TÉTREAULT
Dr. Tétreault went on to explain that we now know COVID-19 can cause long-term health complications, such as thrombosis or multi-systemic infection: “We don’t understand the mechanisms yet but there’s definitely an association between COVID-19 and these adverse health events. Physicians need as much information as possible when making diagnoses. If COVID-19 antibody testing can help them recommend more targeted treatments, it should be prescribed when available.”
The second way in which knowing past COVID-19 infection rates is helpful is within industry. “Companies can benefit from comparing infection prevalence among their workforce with that of the general population so they can adjust infection control procedures accordingly,” says Tétreault.
Dr. Tétreault also notes that not all antibody tests for COVID-19 are the same. “When seeking out a COVID-19 antibody test, make sure it’s high performance. This will reduce the likelihood of being told you have had COVID-19 when you actually have not, which could lead you down an inappropriate treatment route or, in the case of industry, an unfitting business operations pathway.”
Elsewhere in Canada, where COVID-19 antibody testing is not yet widely available for individuals, research is being carried out to determine disease prevalence on a larger scale. Dr. Christopher McCudden, Deputy Chief Medical Scientific Officer at EORLA (Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association), says they are conducting a study across 16 hospitals in Eastern Ontario: “We want to see who’s produced COVID-19 antibodies and how long they last. It’s a great opportunity to gather anonymous population-based data.”
Dr. McCudden says our ultimate goal as a nation is to become immune to COVID-19: “When enough people have become immune to an infectious disease, it’s no longer possible to pass it on. We’re a long way from achieving this with COVID but as we elucidate the link between COVID-19 antibodies and immunity in the future, the data we’re collecting from our study will be really useful”.
“Achieving herd immunity, ideally through vaccination, is key.”DR. CHRISTOPHER MCCUDDEN
What’s the bottom line? COVID-19 antibody testing is available privately, on prescription in Quebec, and elsewhere in Canada in specific cases only (e.g. in individuals with unexplained thrombosis).
If you’re concerned about your employees’ health and the future of your company, or you think you may have post-COVID health complications, ask your physician or local private lab for access to high performance COVID-19 antibody testing. Visit CovidOptions.ca to learn more.
This story was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of a research-based healthcare company.