Could antibody tests prevent a second wave of COVID-19 in Europe?

As the EU sets out plans for easing lockdown restrictions, many governments are searching for strategies to prevent a second wave of the virus.

Antibody testing is an approach some are taking, and governments across the EU are in the process of buying antibody testing kits to see how many citizens have already been infected.

Roche in Switzerland has created its own antibody testing kits, as has US supplier Abbot, Siemens Healthineers in Germany, and various Chinese suppliers.

So far, there’s been an influx of orders for the kits, as well as expressions of interest from governments around the world.

It’s believed this could be a key factor in creating new strategies, although it’s still unclear how the information will be used and how helpful it will be.

Some countries believe this could be a gamechanger; others are not so sure. The tests have been developed to detect antibodies – or proteins released by the immune system – that show the body has responded to the virus.

This can be a sign that the person has developed some immunity or protection against the disease, but the accuracy is still unknown. For example, there may be false positive tests that would give people false hope.

However, Roche says the tests have 99.81% specificity. Orders are still flooding and, according to Roche, millions of kits are expected to be sold in the coming months.

Denmark has already started trying out the tests this week, the Dutch Health Ministry has ordered 1 million kits, and Italy has ordered 150,000.

Some countries, like Hungary, are not as confident in this approach, with a government spokesperson saying the government had no plans to use antibody testing widely.

Others have suggested the idea of “immunity passports”, which could be used for those that have had COVID-19 and recovered. But, the WHO has advised against this as, so far, there’s no evidence that someone that’s recovered from the virus can’t catch it again.

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