FDA Gives Emergency Approval to First Antibody Test for Wuhan Coronavirus

Posted: Apr 03, 2020 4:45 PM
FDA Gives Emergency Approval to First Antibody Test for Wuhan Coronavirus

Source: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization for a new rapid test that can detect antibodies in the bloodstream for the Wuhan coronavirus. The test can determine whether individuals have been exposed to the coronavirus and possess antibodies to the disease. The test should also help public health officials assess the extent of coronavirus infections in the country and aid researches in the development of a vaccine.

Ellie recently wrote about the benefits such testing would have during the pandemic:

The screen for antibodies, known as serology testing, is something that Dr. Birx, the task force coordinator, has consistently touted as being extremely important in clearing those who have been unknowingly infected and without symptoms to return to work safely. This could mean a vital influx of now-isolated healthcare workers back to the frontlines without the fear of infection or cross-contamination. Widespread serology testing could even send many non-essential workers back to earning and reunite families isolated from each other. The implications could mean a restart to the frozen economy much sooner than some estimates.

Beyond the relief to possibly thousands of worried people and the potential benefit of restarting the country, however, positive antibody tests would also provide much-desired data that scientists have been in the dark about since the start of the pandemic. While nearly a quarter of a million Americans have been confirmed to have contracted the Wuhan virus, doctors and scientists within the United States have long suspected that symptom-free carriers who have not been tested could greatly inflate that number. The inflation would then affect the mortality rate and give everyone a much better sense of who is most at risk.

At the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing on Wednesday, Dr. Deborah Birx said individuals who possess antibodies for COVID-19 would almost certainly be immune from contracting the virus again.

But while Dr. Birx touted the benefits of antibody testing, Dr. Fauci said the ultimate solution to the pandemic would be a vaccine.

"The same way a vaccine for other diseases that were scourges in the past that now we don't even worry about," Dr. Fauci said on Wednesday.

Matt wrote about a possible vaccine for COVID-19 that scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine say they may have found. Because of COVID-19's relationship to two other well-known viruses, the researches were able to quickly identify a protein they believe to be critical for inducing immunity against the virus. The scientists are also optimistic the potential vaccine's delivery system, a fingertip-sized patch containing 400 microneedles, would be highly scalable for widespread usage.

The FDA continues to issue emergency-use authorization in a race against time to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The FDA recently issued emergency-use authorization of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, as well as a new rapid test for the coronavirus that can return positive results in as soon as five minutes.