Cobb County

Antibody tests touted as way to combat coronavirus, but are they accurate?

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — As officials across the country and here in Georgia continue the process of reopening states for business amid the coronavirus pandemic, antibody tests have been suggested as a key to getting back to normal.

However, it remains unclear if antibodies can provide protection against reinfection. That hasn't stopped hundreds of thousands of Americans from taking the antibody blood tests.

Channel 2’s Michael Seiden took an antibody test on Monday to see what the process was like.

A lot of medical experts and researchers are questioning the accuracy of the antibody tests.

Seiden spoke with a metro Atlanta family who said they will continue to shelter in place despite their results.

Ashley Rogers said she and her husband Jeffrey, along with their 3-year-old daughter Annie, all started showing symptoms of COVID-19 in February. At the time, no one was really talking about it, so they didn't get tested for the coronavirus.

“She got sick with a fever followed by a cough. I then got sick with an upper respiratory infection and so did my husband and I ended up on an inhaler,” Ashley Rogers said.

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On Friday, The Rogers family joined hundreds of thousands of Americans taking coronavirus antibody tests. They hoped their results would give them some peace of mind.

“Knowing that we’re negative, for me, it just sort of means that the anxiety level remains low,” Ashley Rogers said.

“We just make sure that we're doing everything we can to mitigate the germs and the disease,” husband Jeffrey Rogers said.

Antibody, or serology, tests are designed to identify people who may have been infected with the coronavirus.

After learning that the tests can also detect people who are asymptomatic, Seiden decided to take one himself.

He went Monday morning to a Quest Diagnostics location in Marietta.

As the nurse prepared to draw his blood, Seiden learned that more than 300,000 people nationwide had already taken the same test at Quest labs across the nation.

The entire process took about five minutes. The lab told Seiden that he should have the results back in about 24 hours.

As Seiden was being tested, the Food and Drug Administration rolled out a new stringent policy for testing amid criticism that the agency allowed inaccurate tests to flood the market in recent weeks.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn addressed some of the criteria Monday during a conference call with reporters.

He said companies that make the tests are now required to submit data proving they're accurate.

“Those that can't do that will withdraw their products from the market and we will be working with them to help them do that," Hahn said about the tests.

The new measure is also expected to help target bad actors who are trying to make a profit from the coronavirus pandemic by marketing fraudulent test kits.

Scott Becker is the chief executive officer of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. It's his job to represent state and local public laboratories.

“We really want to ensure that Americans have the highest quality laboratory tests they can because the risk of not doing that is so critically important. If you don't have quality, then you could be providing really bad information to people,” Becker told Seiden.

Dr. Ted Ross, director of the center for vaccines and immunology at the University of Georgia, is currently working with his team on a vaccine for the coronavirus.

“What we really want to do is come up with a test that will tell you whether or not you are protected. Currently the test cannot do that,” Ross said. “It’s very important for us to know this because we might develop a vaccine that will cause an immune response. But if we are not targeting the right part of the virus, the antibodies we generate are not effective, then that vaccine really won’t help us.”

Ross said when it comes to antibody tests, there are many misconceptions, including the idea that a positive test means you're immune to the virus.

“You should continue to do social distancing because we don’t know if those antibodies can prevent you from getting infected again,” Ross said.

The Rogers family say they're onboard with that too. The plan, for now, is to continue practicing social distancing.

“I don't foresee us going on any plane rides. Usually we take a couple of trips a year. When we go see our families, there's no big hugs or embraces. When we see them we just kind of distance ourselves at the table,” Jeffrey Rogers said.

The FDA has already authorized 12 companies to distribute antibody tests, but dozens more are waiting for approval.