Skip to main content

WHO warns that coronavirus antibody tests won’t save us

There may be no concrete way to tell if you are immune to the coronavirus, regardless if you’ve contracted it or not, according to a statement the World Health Organization (WHO) issued on Friday. 

In recent weeks, serological tests — or antibody tests — have grown in popularity across the U.S. as a way to test if a nonsymptomatic COVID-19-positive patient has developed immunity to the disease by measuring certain proteins found in blood. 

“There’s been an expectation that maybe herd immunity has been achieved and that the majority of people in society may have developed antibodies,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies program. “I think the general evidence is pointing against that.”

President Donald Trump recommended Thursday that states begin to lessen restrictions on shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, as well as ramp up efforts to provide serology and other such testing to more Americans in the coming weeks. Based on WHO’s Friday announcement regarding the potential ineffectiveness of antibody tests, such efforts by Trump may prove to be pointless. 

“It may not solve the problem that governments are trying to solve,” said Ryan. “Nobody is sure whether someone with antibodies is fully protected against having the disease or being exposed again.”

COVID-19 Virus

The White House was reportedly briefed on the downsides of serology testing this week, before Trump made a push for them the following day. 

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO official and head of its emerging diseases unit, said there just isn’t enough proof to show that serology can give a “detectable antibody response” based on a preliminary study done on coronavirus patients in Shanghai. This means not everyone who is able to recover from COVID-19 will come out of the disease with the necessary antibodies to fight it again without issue — unlike other seasonal-type flus. 

“Right now, we have no evidence that the use of a serological test can show that an individual is immune or protected from reinfection,” said Kerkhove. 

There are more than 680,000 coronavirus cases in the U.S., and 2.1 million worldwide. Testing for the virus has hit a major slowdown in the past few weeks, even as rates of infection have been steadily increasing.  

Editors' Recommendations

Meira Gebel
Meira Gebel is a freelance reporter based in Portland. She writes about tech, social media, and internet culture for Digital…
No, you shouldn’t inject yourself with disinfectant to ‘cure’ the coronavirus
Lysol bottles

The maker of household cleaning products Lysol and Dettol warned customers not to ingest or inject its disinfectants after President Donald Trump floated the dangerous idea as a possible treatment for coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

"As a global leader in health and hygiene products, we must be clear that under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body (through injection, ingestion, or any other route)," the company, Reckitt Benckiser, said in a statement Friday. "As with all products, our disinfectant and hygiene products should only be used as intended and in line with usage guidelines. Please read the label and safety information."

Read more
FDA authorizes first at-home coronavirus test
fda authorizes first at home coronavirus test pixel labcorp

In response to a mass shortage of available tests, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized a direct-to-consumer test for the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. 

The test, called Pixel and created by health services giant LabCorp, will be priced at $119 and includes two-way overnight shipping and physician services from PWNHealth. 

Read more
WHO says these six things need to happen before lockdowns are lifted 
hand washing

As countries like the U.S. are anxious to get their economies back to normal, the World Health Organization (WHO) has outlined six conditions for lifting lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19.

WHO released the guidelines as part of a strategic plan for handling the deadly global pandemic.

Read more