A UK-wide antibody testing programme is to be launched for people who have contracted coronavirus, the government has announced.
The programme, which will offer tests to thousands of adults per day, aims to improve understanding and gain “vital” data about antibody protection following COVID-19 infection and vaccination.
From Tuesday, anyone over 18 from any of the four UK nations can opt in to the programme when receiving a PCR test.
Of those who test positive for coronavirus, up to 8,000 will be sent two finger prick antibody tests to complete at home and send back for analysis.
The first must be taken as soon as possible after the positive result, and the second must be taken 28 days later.
The UK Health Security Agency, which is running the programme, will work alongside NHS test and trace services in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland and use the results to monitor levels of antibodies in positive cases across the UK.
The Department of Health and Social Care says it will be the first time antibody tests have been made available to the general public, and the scheme could also provide insight into any groups of people who do not develop an immune response.
The data will be used to inform the ongoing approach to the pandemic and give further insight into the effectiveness of vaccines on new variants.
Those taking part must take the first antibody test as soon as possible after receiving a positive PCR result so the body does not have time to generate a detectable antibody response to the infection.
The second test should be taken 28 days later and will measure antibodies generated in response to the infection.
UK Health Security Agency Chief Executive Dr. Jenny Harries said: “We are rolling out antibody testing across the UK to gain vital data into the impact of our vaccination programme and on immune responses to different variants of COVID-19.
“This innovative programme is only possible thanks to the thousands of people who continue to help with studies on vaccine and treatment effectiveness each week.”
The announcement comes amid ongoing debate over the rollout of booster jabs in the UK.
Dr. Chris Smith, consultant virologist and lecturer at Cambridge University, warned the UK must not take its “eye off the ball” with COVID-19 vaccinations.
Smith said a decision on booster jabs should not be “rash [or] rushed,” and that the government is considering a more “strategic” approach.
The government said a further 104 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19 as of Saturday, and there had been a further 32,058 lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the UK.
By Mike Bedigan