Mapping Immunity

What is an antibody test?

Antibody tests have caught the world’s attention for their capability to assist in bringing back normalcy, by revealing who has recovered, and may now be resistant or immune to Covid-19. Antibody testing has been hailed by many in the world as a game changer including the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Such tests not only help in identifying immunity but also offer hope for future protection. These tests don’t check for the virus, instead, it gives an idea about your ​immune system; to see whether your body’s defense against illness has responded to the infection. If test results show the presence of antibodies, likelihood is that the person was infected with COVID-19 at some time in the past, and has some immunity. Although the level of immunity and how long immunity lasts are not yet known, ongoing studies will eventually reveal more data on this.

Why antibody tests are important?

We’re in the middle of Pandemic right now and such testing can be important for epidemiological studies. Antibody testing will enable us to assess the spread of COVID-19 in various communities, and thus it’s crucial for zero prevalence studies. Antibody tests enable the government to understand how many people have immunity against the coronavirus, and therefore decide when to bring the states safely out of lockdown. They also improve epidemiological understanding of the virus’s lethality, and how it has spread throughout the country.​Another benefit of antibody testing is that people who’ve recovered from COVID-19 can donate their plasma which could be used to treat others with severe disease and boost their ability to fight the deadly virus. The precise antibodies developed against Covid-19 can also be used in discovering therapies to treat patients.

If antibody tests are made widely available, results will indicate how many people were infected with COVID-19 previously and have now recovered, including those who didn’t have symptoms.

This will help in determining the immune groups and can also aid in contact tracing to assess who else is at risk of infection and how far the disease has spread. All of this data will help improve strategies to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

Proper Planning to roll out the idea.

In India, Maharashtra has already become the first state that has asked organisations to start using antibody tests on their employees as part of the ICMR’s “​immunity certificate​” plan. Immunity certificate, as per WHO, would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection. Although there is no clarification from the government on using these tests but seems it is high time for the government to take a firm decision in this regard and issue guidelines regarding the same. People should be encouraged to take up these tests by making them affordable and private laboratories should be monitored properly in this regard. The use of rapid testing kits should be discouraged and ​healthcare professionals should be assigned to supervise interpretation of these results.

Negativity vs Positivity Debate

The alarming growth of Covid positive cases in India have had a negative impact on the economy. The mental health experts have warned of the negative consequences of covid related distress on the common people. The growing numbers, be it positive cases or covid related deaths, they are leaving a negative impact on the mental health of the population and we’ve witnessed many suicide cases related to this. Antibody testing could reverse such phenomena; imagine people hearing about the increasing number of immune populations. It will bring positivity back to the collective life sphere and this could be a game changer. No matter how wild this idea of connecting dots seems, antibody testing is the need of the hour owing to its incredible potential in assessing the pandemic better and bringing back the normalcy.

Tajamul Mir works at Dept. of Forensic Medicine, SKIMS-MCH