UK has ordered millions of antibody tests, but “not good enough”

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A scientist presents an antibody test for the coronavirus in a laboratory of the Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) on the InfectoGnostics research campus in Jena, Germany, Friday April 3, 2020. An international team of researchers with the participation of Jena The Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) has developed a rapid antibody test for the new coronavirus. Using a blood sample, the test shows in ten minutes whether a person is acutely infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (IgM antibody) or already immunized against it (IgG antibody). The test strip is manufactured by the diagnostic company Senova in Weimar and is already on the market. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially the elderly and people with existing health problems, this can cause more serious illnesses, including pneumonia. (Photo AP / Jens Meyer)

Antibody tests detect if a person has had a coronavirus and is now immune (Image: AP)

The British government has ordered millions of antibody tests against coronaviruses, but none of them can be used, admitted the new test manager at Public Health England.

Professor John Newton said the tests requested from China can only accurately confirm immunity in critically ill patients, which means they will not work for those who have suffered from more minor symptoms. Antibody tests use blood to determine if a person previously had Covid-19 and is now immune.

He told The Times that none of the tests requested had passed the assessment and “are not good enough to be implemented on a very large scale.”

Professor Newton said: “The test developed in China has been validated against critically ill patients with a very high viral load, generating a large amount of antibodies … whereas we want to use the test in the context of a more wide levels of infection including people who are fairly mildly infected. So for our purposes, we need a test that works better than some of these other tests. “

The professor said the country will no longer buy millions of kits but remains “optimistic” that a valid test will be available in the coming months, as government scientists have worked with commercial companies to improve performance.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government had purchased 3.5 million test kits, with officials saying they could be sent home in a few days but the professor said it “was based on the fact that we could just buy the existing test. ” However, he said it was best to try to improve the test before deploying it.

His comments come after the government was subjected to scrutiny for a lack of testing, with front-line health care professionals saying it put them at risk every day.

NHS staff have been depleted due to numerous self-isolations, but antibody testing would be essential to allow them to return to work safely.

Many have also asked why the UK is testing less than other countries, such as Germany where 500,000 tests are performed per week, but Health Secretary Matt Hancock responded to criticism by saying there was a shortage of materials.

Millions of tests ordered would be invalid (Photo: Getty)

He promised that a target of 100,000 daily tests would be reached by the end of the month using private laboratories and that NHS staff would be “absolutely” tested.

Hancock said the figure would include swab and antibody tests – the latter can be done at home and would reveal a result in as little as 20 minutes.

However, he said that large-scale antibody testing will only be rolled out when clinicians are satisfied that it is a valid test, stressing that “no test is better than a bad test “.

“We are currently working with nine companies that have offered these tests and evaluated their effectiveness,” he said. “These antibody blood tests offer the hope that people who think they have the disease will know that they are immune and can resume life as much as possible normally. But they have to work. “

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But public health expert Dame Deirdre Hine, who led an official review of the 2009 swine flu pandemic, said she couldn’t understand why the government was not already prepared with readily available tests .

She said: “I find it difficult to understand why the antigen and antibody tests take so long to take off …

“I think if there may be something where the answer could have been better this time, it’s on the whole issue of testing.


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