What parents need to know about COVID-19 antibodies.
The kids are getting restless and mamas are suffering from acute burnout. We want our world to go back to normal but we also want to keep our families safe. Many mothers are wondering if testing for coronavirus antibodies could give our kids their lives back.
Researchers are wondering this, too, and are working hard to answer this question. But right now, we still don't know enough about COVID-19 to say if antibody testing would allow people to occupy public spaces safely (or if the United States has the capacity to do that kind of testing).
There are a lot of unknowns here, but we do know that human bodies build up antibodies to fight this virus and that with some further study, patience and proper health care infrastructure this individual immune response could be the key to our collective pandemic response.
Here are the answers to some common questions about COVID-19 antibodies:
Does having COVID-19 antibodies make a person immune?
With a lot of diseases (think measles or chickenpox) having caught it once does make a person immune, but lifelong immunity isn't 100% guaranteed in those cases and we don't know if it's guaranteed at all in the case of COVID-19.
"This to me is one of the big unanswered questions that we have," Jeffrey Shaman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University, told NPR. "Because it really says, 'What is the full exit strategy to this and how long are we going to be contending with it?' "
Without knowing how protective our own antibodies can be when it comes to reinfection, public health experts can't greenlight a return to work or school for those who have had it already without risking the lives of those people and others who have not yet been infected.
Simply put, we don't know if antibodies make us immune and until we know more the risks of assuming so are too great for many in public health to accept.
How accurate is COVID-19 antibody testing?
There are hundreds of coronavirus antibody tests that have been granted emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, but can everyone get one and are they accurate?
One company, Roche, claims its test is 100% accurate, but many other tests have not proven their levels of accuracy and doctors are quite worried about the potential for false-positives in this Wild West of testing. The Roche test got emergency approval from the FDA, which sets it apart from the hundreds of other tests which only have FDA-authorization (meaning some paperwork's been done but serious study of the test's accuracy has not).
"Aside from this latest FDA-approved antibody test that we're hearing about that is highly accurate, I should also point out that we don't even know if most of the other hundred or so tests that are out there on the market are even close to being that accurate," says CBS News' medical contributor, Dr. David Agus.
Researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine say another test, by Abbott Labs, is nearly 100% accurate and according to CNBC the company has shipped 10 million tests to hospital labs.
Still, testing doesn't make the spread of the virus stop and experts are asking even those who have been tested to comply with social distancing guidelines for now as they believe some tests are giving people a false sense of security.
Nikole Carlson Hartzell told USA Today that after an antibody test at an urgent care center in Brighton, Michigan, found she had "no active infection, no prior infection and no evidence of immunity" she felt like she was cleared, but soon realized she wasn't.
"Knowing I wasn't infected, I immediately visited my niece and hugged my sister," she explained, adding that she soon realized that just because she doesn't have active COVID-19 doesn't mean interacting with others is safe. "The novelty of it quickly wore off, as once I was home and saw my husband, I was no longer superhuman and could not guarantee anything anymore."
Can my family get COVID-19 antibody testing?
Many people who did not test positive for COVID-19 believe they have had and recovered from it, and if your family is among those you may be curious about getting tested. Unfortunately, it's still not easy for people to access antibody testing.
According to the CDC, you should "check with your healthcare provider to see if they offer antibody tests" but as the Mayo Clinic explains, "eligibility may vary, depending on the availability of tests."
"Typically at this time, most doctors only suggest a test to diagnose COVID-19 if you have symptoms or you've had exposure to someone with COVID-19. To get antibody testing, you have to be fully recovered from COVID-19. But in a limited number of communities, people who never had symptoms of COVID-19 are included in testing. Some have positive results, meaning they likely were infected by the COVID-19 virus at some time," the Mayo Clinic's Dr. William F. Marshall, III, writes.
Marshall continues: "Access to either test depends on where you live, test availability and whether you're viewed as eligible. In the U.S., collaborative efforts to make more tests available are ongoing. The nationwide goal is to test more people as more tests become available."
In short, you can call your doctor or pediatrician and inquire but right now there are a lot of variables regarding who can get testing. Hopefully, the barriers will be reduced in the near future but there are no guarantees presently.
Bottom line: Antibody testing could help us get back to school, work and our loved ones, but right now we don't know enough about the antibodies (or the tests) to declare this a victory over COVID-19.
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