Jul 26, 2021 - Health

A reality check on the GOP's push for coronavirus antibody testing

A health worker extracting blood from a patient for a coronavirus antibody test in Krakow, Poland, in April 2020.
A health worker extracting blood from a patient for a coronavirus antibody test in Krakow, Poland, in April 2020. Photo: Omar Marques/Getty Images

When the GOP Doctors Caucus gathered to publicly encourage vaccines last week, the message came with a caveat: Talk to your doctor about an antibody test.

For example: "If you haven’t had the vaccine, or if you haven’t tested positive for the virus, go to your doctor. Ask him for the antibody test," said Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), who is an OB/GYN.

  • "And then you and your doctor should decide the pros and cons, the risks and benefits and if you want the vaccine."

Be smart: This advice runs counter to CDC guidance. Public health experts say natural immunity certainly shouldn't be disregarded, but they wouldn't support this recommendation.

“It is true that if you’ve had prior infection, you have some protection," said Jen Kates, KFF's senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy.

  • However, current scientific evidence shows the vaccine-induced immunity consistently protects better than natural immunity in part because of how the virus learns to disrupt and evade the immune system, Vineet Menachery, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, tells Axios.
  • Experts said antibody tests are useful tools, but they aren't perfect and they don't necessarily tell a person the level of antibodies they have.
  • “Put it this way: For me? I wouldn’t rely on that as a method of protection," Kates said.

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