Government launches UK-wide antibody surveillance programme
Thousands of adults a day will be given free access to antibody tests through a new national surveillance programme launched by the UK Health Security Agency.
For the first time, the programme will offer antibody testing to adults in the UK who test positive. From Tuesday, anyone aged over 18 will be able to opt in to take part when booking a PCR test through NHS Test and Trace. Up to 8,000 people who opt in and then receive a positive PCR result will be sent 2 finger prick antibody tests to complete at home and send back to a lab for analysis.
The UK Health Security Agency will work alongside NHS Test and Trace testing services in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to monitor levels of antibodies in positive cases across the UK. The data collected will help estimate the proportion of those who got COVID-19 despite developing antibodies as a result of having a vaccine or previously catching coronavirus.
The initiative could provide insight into any groups of people who do not develop an immune response. The UK Health Security Agency will use the data to inform our ongoing approach to COVID-19 and provide further insight into the effectiveness of the vaccines against different variants.
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid said: "Our new national antibody testing will be quick and easy to take part in, and by doing so you’ll be helping strengthen our understanding of COVID-19 as we cautiously return to a more normal life.
"I’m proud to see all parts of the UK uniting around this new initiative and working together to arm ourselves with even more valuable insights into how COVID-19 vaccines are protecting people up and down the UK. Our phenomenal vaccination programme continues to build a massive wall of defence across the country – already preventing around 24 million infections and more than 100,000 deaths in England alone. I urge everyone across the UK to get both vaccinations as soon as possible."
All adults interested in the study are encouraged to opt in. Anyone taking part must take their first antibody test as soon as possible after receiving a positive PCR result, before the body has had time to generate a detectable antibody response to the current infection. The first test will determine the level of antibodies a person had before their current infection.
The second test should be taken 28 days after testing positive for COVID-19 and will measure antibodies generated in response to the infection. By comparing the 2 antibody test results, the UK Health Security Agency will be able to see how well vaccinated individuals boost their immunity when they are infected and how this might vary with different variants.
Testing positive for antibodies does not mean someone is immune from COVID-19 and people must continue to follow the rules, get tested if they have symptoms and self-isolate if positive or are a contact of a positive case and have not received both vaccine doses, to prevent the virus from spreading.
Chief Executive of the UK National Health Security Agency Dr Jenny Harries said: "We are rolling out antibody testing across the UK to gain vital data into the impact of our vaccination programme and on immune responses to different variants of COVID-19. This innovative programme is only possible thanks to the thousands of people who continue to help with studies on vaccine and treatment effectiveness each week."
Dr Susan Hopkins, Public Health England’s COVID-19 Strategic Response Director, said: "Our testing armoury is stronger than ever now we are rolling out antibody testing to thousands of people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland alongside the vast testing capacity we have built including our NHS Test and Trace system.
"Antibody testing surveillance shows how health teams across the UK are dedicated to working together to find innovative ways to understand the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and target future treatments for COVID-19."