Duke health official questions effectiveness of COVID-19 antibody testing

Josh Chapin Image
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Duke health official questions effectiveness of COVID-19 antibody testing
As the demand for COVID-19 antibody testing rises, health officials question the effectiveness of antibody testing to show if some people are immune to the virus.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- There was hope that a COVID-19 antibody test would be the solution to getting back to normal.

The test was thought to offer proof of some sort of immunity to the virus. But that might not be the case, according to Dr. Christopher Polage, medical director of the Duke University Hospital System's Clinical Microbiology Lab.

"I'm not saying there's no utility but I would say we at Duke have chosen not to use this test clinically in most patients," Dr. Polage said.

Duke has six different tests for COVID-19. They also validated an antibody test but have not used it across the board.

"So far the only piece of information it will tell us is if we trust the specificity of the test," Dr. Polage said. "The specificity has been questioned and it's different from different tests and from different manufacturers."

In recent months, antibody tests were offered for free to first responders in Raleigh and to those donating blood.

"All it means is that you've been exposed to the virus and you have developed antibodies," he said. "Those antibodies might mean absolutely nothing and it doesn't change anything about how to behave."

Dr. Polage said he feels the lab is in a far better place than when ABC11 visited in early March. They run nearly 1,000 coronavirus tests per day and have the capacity to do more.

He believes labs will have to deal with shortages of supplies moving forward.

"I think it's a reality that we're going to continue to face shortages in testing and this quite likely will place some restrictions on our ability to test all the individuals we'd like to test," Dr. Polage said.

Duke said there are no current testing delays having to with supply issues. UNC Health saying the same.

"This isn't a sprint: this is a marathon and that certainly played out to be true," said Dr. Melissa Miller, director of the microbiology lab at UNC Hospitals. "I don't think life will be normal for us until we have a vaccine available and I think it probably shouldn't be."