UK Covid-19 antibody tests not ready before May at the earliest | Society


Antibody tests to identify those who have had Covid-19 will not be available until May at the earliest, which raises further questions about how the government will meet its goal of 100,000 tests per day by the end of the month.

On Wednesday, Professor John Newton of Public Health England admitted that none of the tests tested so far were sufficiently accurate.

“We do not expect to have antibody tests by the end of April,” Newton told members of the select science and technology committee. “We are not counting on antibody tests to achieve this goal.

“We were optimistic that a number of companies were offering us these rapid antibody tests and hoped that they would be suitable for the intended use. They all work to some degree, but are not good enough to count. It was felt that it was better to develop a better antibody test before deploying it. “

Without an antibody test, experts believe it will be difficult for the government to reach its target of 100,000 per day to test patients, NHS staff and key workers such as caregivers, even with a massive effort from from laboratories and the biomedical industry.

“It will be a stretch,” said Sir Paul Nurse, Nobel laureate who heads the Francis Crick Institute in London, which has been turned into a test laboratory.

The UK currently performs around 14,000 swab tests per day to confirm if patients currently have Covid-19, diagnostic tests that take time and need to be treated in the laboratory.

While optimism about the potential usefulness of rapid finger prick antibody tests was still high, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that the government had purchased 3.5 million and said more late that he had ordered 17.5 million more.

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The UK will now try to get a refund, said Kathy Hall, director of Covid-19 testing strategy at the Department of Health.

“We are currently working with companies to cancel orders and get the money back if possible,” she told the committee. No country has a valid antibody test, she said.

Newton said he was encouraged that British pharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca was working on a test and was confident he could have one available in May. “The people who do it talk about this type of deadline,” he said.

Hancock held a conference call with industry leaders on Wednesday to urge them to develop antibody tests, in the same way that he had asked for help from industry to make ventilators.

Antibody tests can identify who has recovered from the virus and acquired some immunity, and could therefore return to work safely. They are particularly important for doctors, nurses and caregivers and, at a later stage in the epidemic, will allow other key workers, such as teachers, to return to work.


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