Antibody tests could be crucial in COVID-19 fight

In the fight against COVID-19, they may be the next frontier—antibody tests.

Stanford University began performing them last week.

Dr. Scott Boyd, associate professor of pathology at the university, said, "We think they're actually the main line of defense that would prevent you from getting reinfected if you get exposed in the future to the virus."

The presence of antibodies indicates previous exposure to COVID-19 and possibly some measure of immunity.

There's a rush to get these kinds of tests on the market. Abbott Laboratories in Illinois announced it will ship close to 1 million tests this week and 4 million by the end of April.

John Hackett, Abbott's divisional vice president for diagnostics, said, "These types of tests, called serology tests, are the next step in battling this virus."

But not all tests are created equal. More than 90 companies have told the Federal Drug Administration that they're selling tests, but the Association of Public Health Laboratories said many of them are ineffective giving both false negatives and false positives.

Boyd said, "It varies a lot and part of the problem is there is no consumer reports summary of which of those portable devices are reliable. So it really is sort of a wild west situation right now."

And Stanford said reliable tests are extremely important.

The theory has been that as more people have immunity, more can get back to work. And right now, they're finding the vast majority of people have yet to be exposed.

Boyd said, "In California and by the estimates we have from the sampling we've done, it looks like it might be somewhere between 1 and 3 % at least of the local population that we have a sample of."

And even for those who do have antibodies, immunity may be fleeting.

Boyd said, "Because the virus has really only been around for a few months, we don't really know how long somebody's immune response will last."

Stanford has been doing about 500 tests a day for the last week but hopes to ramp up to 1,000 tests a day. They're also working with other labs to get similar programs up and running.