UK has millions of coronavirus antibody tests – but NONE work – The Sun

THE UK has millions of coronavirus antibody tests – but NONE of them are good enough to use, the new testing chief has admitted.

The Government has ordered 17.5 million antibody kits – which would tell patients through a finger-prick blood test if they have already had the virus and recovered.

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However, Professor John Newton said that all of the coronavirus tests had failed evaluations and “are not good enough to be worth rolling out in very large scale”.

In particular, he revealed the tests from China were only able to identify immunity accurately only in people who had been severely ill and that Britain was no longer hoping to buy millions of kits off the shelf.

It comes as the UK has faced criticism for being slow to test in comparison to other countries – with less than 5,000 daily swabs being carried out until March.

Professor Newton, of Public Health England, who was appointed to oversee testing last week, said: "The test developed in China was validated against patients who were severely ill with a very large viral load, generating a large amount of antibodies…

"Whereas we want to use the test in the context of a wider range of levels of infection including people who are quite mildly infected. So for our purposes, we need a test that performs better than some of these other tests."


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Despite this, government scientists are hoping to work with companies to improve the performance of the antibody tests they currently have – and Prof Newton said he was "optimistic" one of the antibody tests would come good in months.

On Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted himself the Government still doesn't have a reliable antibody kit it can use – despite promising to ramp up testing by the end of the month.

He said that several of the antibody kits had failed accuracy tests – with three in four positive results being missed.

Mr Hancock told BBC Radio 4: "I think that the antibody test, the blood test, at the moment we haven't got a reliable home test.

"If we manage to get one then that can be easily replicated and we can get into even higher figures, much higher figures."

He responded to criticism of the failure to increase checks quickly enough by promising to use private labs and hit 100,000 daily tests this month.

The NHS is currently using separate antigen tests in hospitals to determine if someone is currently infected with Covid-19 – and these tests will also be crucial in allowing NHS staff back to work if they do not have the virus.

Antigens are found on the surface of invading pathogens, including coronavirus.

Testing for antigens can determine whether someone is currently carrying the virus and are actively infectious.

The government is still looking for commercial tests but it has accepted that rollout is months away.

Previously officials had spoken of sending millions of home test kits in days, but Professor Newton said “the idea that we might have it in days was based on the fact that we might just buy the existing test, and at the moment the judgment is that that wouldn’t be the best thing to do. It would be better to try and improve the test”.

Coronavirus testing: What is the difference between antigen and antibody tests?

Coronavirus tests are key to getting a clearer idea of the scale of the outbreak in the UK and getting a handle on it.

In recent days, there's been a lot of talk about the two different types of tests that the government are ramping up.

The government refers to them as the 'have you got it' antigen test or the 'have you had it' antibody test.

Here we explain the difference between the two…

What is an antigen test?

Antigens are found on the surface of invading pathogens, including coronavirus.

Testing for antigens can determine whether someone is currently carrying the virus and are actively infectious.

The NHS is currently using antigen tests in hospitals to determine if someone is currently infected with Covid-19.

Samples are taken using a swab – which resemble a large cotton bud – from deep inside the nose and throat before being sent off to a lab for testing.

Most labs use a method called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which takes several hours to get a result.

It can take days for labs to run the tests and tell people their result.

Several companies are working on ways to fast track this type of testing.

What is an antibody test?

When a person gets infected with antigen, the body starts making specially designed proteins called antibodies in response – as a way to fight the infection.

After they recover, those antibodies float in the blood for months, maybe even years.

That's the body's way of defending itself in case it becomes infected with the virus again.

So an antibody test specifically looks for antibodies which will be able to tell whether you've already been exposed to Covid-19.

Anyone who has already had the illness is presumed to be immune to getting it again – at least, in the intermediate term.

This would allow them to go back to work safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely to become infected again or pass the virus on.

The check that has been developed for Covid-19 is a finger-prick blood test, with the samples sent to laboratories and results available within a few days.

Dr Hilary Jones, a GP and resident doctor on Good Morning Britain, explained that it works "almost like a pregnancy test, except you need a drop of blood".

These tests are being developed by several different firms and Public Health England (PHE) is also working on its own test.

They still need to be validated to ensure they give accurate results.

He told The Times: “The scientists in Oxford who have been evaluating them are working with manufacturers to say, ‘We’ve tested your test, and it doesn’t seem to perform quite well enough, but we think we can work with you to improve it.’

"So it is a little bit uncertain but there are commercial partners able to work with us. I’m optimistic.”

Despite this, Dame Deirdre Hine, the public health expert who chaired an official review that criticised failures of modelling in the 2009 swine flu pandemic, said that it was “difficult to understand” why the government had not planned for more testing.

Less than a third of doctors with symptoms of Covid-19 are able to get tested for the disease, according to a survey by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP).

It also found that one in five did not have access to the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to safely treat Covid-19 patients.

Andrew Goddard, the RCP president, said the findings of the survey of 2,513 participants, were “a stark indication of the incredibly difficult situation facing our members working in the NHS”.

Matt Hancock told Sky News yesterday that eight per cent of NHS frontline staff were self-isolating and off work.

However, the RCP’s survey suggested the figure could be as high as 14 per cent.

Many of those off work are thought to be in isolation because of a member of their household with symptoms.

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The poll found almost nine out of ten doctors could not access Covid-19 testing for someone in those circumstances.

Professor Goddard added: “The government’s current strategy to deliver testing that would support NHS staff to return to the workforce as quickly as possible clearly isn’t working.”

He urged the government to publish its plan, timeline, and the challenges that it expected.

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