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Current testing tools uncompromised by new COVID-19 variant of concern Omicron (B.1.1.529)

Available diagnostics do pick up Omicron infections

In November 2021 a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was identified. 

The World Health Organization declared it a variant of concern, especially as it is more transmissible than the variants that preceded it. 

There were initial concerns that Omicron would also evade testing, as some PCR tests did not pick up the virus because it had a deletion in one of its genes. 

However, the other PCR gene targets were still identified. 

At the time FIND conducted a rapid assessment of available evidence and also confirmed that rapid antigen tests would still pick up an Omicron infection. 

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COVID-19: why we can’t use antibody tests to show that vaccines are working

Why do we not use antibody tests to diagnose COVID-19 infections?

Checking for antibodies is not the most accurate indicator of the presence of a SARS-COV-2 infection.

What are antibody tests?

This article explains the role antibody tests are playing in fighting the pandemic. 

Antibodies neutralize foreign cells the body sees as a threat. Most COVID-19 vaccines trigger the body to produce antibodies against the spike protein in the SARS-COV-2 virus. 

The spike protein is a molecule found on the surface of the virus, and it helps the virus to enter the host cells and spread from there. 

Why can’t we use antibody testing to measure vaccine efficacy?

COVID-19 serology tests were designed early in the pandemic to detect only a few antibodies generated by natural infection, not vaccine-induced immunity.

They detect antibodies produced to fight the protein capsule around the virus and not the spike protein, while most COVID-19 vaccines introduce the body to small amounts of the genetic material in the spike protein to elicit an immune reaction.

Can antibody testing determine if a vaccine worked?

Not precisely. It takes around two weeks for the body to generate antibodies after COVID-19 vaccination, so even tests to detect the “right” antibody could be negative in the first few weeks after vaccination. 

Can antibody tests be wrong?

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recommended that antibody testing not be used to evaluate either immunity levels or protection levels from SARS-COV-2.

Why still do antibody tests?

Data from antibody tests are helpful for surveillance studies. In these studies, large numbers of people in a community are tested. These studies estimate how many people were infected in the past and how fast the virus spreads.