Apr 20, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus antibody tests see reliability and availability problems

A medical researcher testing for antibodies against coronavirus.

A medical researcher testing for antibodies against coronavirus. Photo: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Some officials fear that the launch of antibody tests may become as problematic as the U.S.'s diagnostic testing effort, as fears rise about the tests' reliability and availability, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The tests show who has had the virus based on antibodies in their blood, even if they were asymptomatic. These people may have immunity from getting it again, although this is still unproven.

Between the lines: The antibody tests could be useful for gathering information about the true spread of the virus, and for potentially helping high-risk populations go back to work. But in both cases, that's only true if the tests are accurate and reliable.

  • The Food and Drug Administration has taken a loose regulatory approach to the tests, allowing most manufacturers coming on the market to validate their own tests. These tests, some experts warn, may not be high-quality.
  • Federal guidance regarding the tests is confusing, leading to some providers administering the tests who may not be authorized to do so, or misusing the tests to diagnose the coronavirus.
  • The tests also have a high false positive rate, and may run into the same manufacturing problems plaguing diagnostic tests.

The bottom line: Antibody tests are an important tool in our coronavirus response, but they're a long ways from where they need to be.

Go deeper: How coronavirus antibody tests will help

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