May 14, 2020 - Health

AMA cautions use of coronavirus antibody tests to determine "immunity"

In this image, a woman medical worker handles vials of blood

An EMT sorts through blood samples to test for COVID-19 antibodies at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, New York City on May 14. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

Antibody tests that identify those who have previously contracted the coronavirus should not be used to determine immunity, the American Medical Association cautioned in a Thursday report.

The big picture: Antibody tests help medical workers find out how widespread the coronavirus is in a given community, which New York state has pursued in recent weeks. These tests detect the antibodies the body produces when it fights off a coronavirus infection, but scientists don't know whether that translates into immunity, or how long such immunity might last.

What they're saying: The FDA "does not automatically independently verify performance" of antibody tests after granting them emergency authorization, the AMA writes — and tests that are not commercially marketed do not require FDA authorization.

  • Antibody tests should not be used as justification for returning for work or discontinuing social distancing practices, the AMA says.

Where it stands: Roughly 12 commercial antibody tests have received emergency authorization by the FDA, while over 120 others are currently on the market, the AMA writes.

Go deeper: Coronavirus antibody tests see reliability and availability problems

Go deeper