Hopes grow for antibody tests, experts urge caution
The sun is only just rising in Berlin but Lothar Kopp, 65, is already standing in line outside a clinic in the district of Reinickendorf. Along with a handful of mask-clad people standing two metres apart, he is here to give a blood sample for antibody tests in the hope of finding out if he has previously contracted the coronavirus and since developed immunity. If I’ve already had corona then I’m not infectious,” said Kopp, hoping to test positive for antibodies as it could allow him to visit his elderly mother without the risk of spreading the disease.
As nations around the world look to ease curbs on public life, some experts have mooted the possibility of so-called “immunity passports” to allow those who have antibodies to return to work first. In Germany, tens of thousands of tests have been performed and large studies are ongoing. Elsewhere in the world, efforts are also under way to determine the so-called level of immunity in the population.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said last week that the state will be launching tests “in the most aggressive way in the nation” to find out how many have already had the disease. In a rush to catch up with testing, the US regulator had even taken the extraordinary decision to allow commercial manufacturers to market their tests without formal authorization.
But experts including from the World Health Organization have urged caution over the accuracy of the nascent tests. Among the unknowns of the virus is how long immunity could last meaning that even positive antibody tests may not be meaningful for long.