In an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading expert on infectious diseases and a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, warned that it’s too early to rely on antibody testing as a gauge for whether the country can reopen.
Antibody testing detects whether the antibodies that fight coronavirus are present in someone’s body. If a person has the antibodies, they may be immune to coronavirus. According to a report in USA Today, antibody testing may be the key to relaxing social distancing measures and allowing people to go back to work because people with the antibodies could return to normal life, including resuming their jobs, without putting themselves at risk. However, for this plan to work, antibody testing needs to be accurate and readily available. Right now, it’s not.
Fauci said in Monday’s interview that more research was needed to understand the way immunity to coronavirus works. He went on to say that there’s currently no way to be sure that someone with the coronavirus antibodies is actually protected from getting the virus in the future.
“There’s an assumption — a reasonable assumption — that when you have an antibody that you are protected against reinfection, but that has not been proven for this particular virus. It’s true for other viruses.”
He made it clear that there’s currently no information about how long the antibodies would provide immunity to a person that has them if they provide immunity at all. Fauci indicated that immunity could be temporary, which means that even people with the antibodies may get coronavirus again after months or years of immunity.
During the interview, Fauci also addressed the potential danger posed by companies manufacturing antibody tests.
“The problem is that these are tests that need to be validated and calibrated, and many of the tests out there don’t do that. So even though you hear about companies flooding the market with these antibody tests, a lot of them are not validated.”
Using antibody tests that haven’t been through a rigorous validation process could lead to inaccurate test results. So, though there are currently antibody tests available, relying on their results to make decisions about reopening the economy could pose a risk to public health.
So, while antibody tests may prove to be the key to reopening the economy, Fauci has advised that more research is needed before relying on them for decision making.