Greater understanding of coronavirus as Scottish health boards focus on antibody testing

Scotland’s chief medical officer has advised health boards to focus on coronavirus antibody testing to improve understanding of the virus and caring for patients.

By Neil McGrory, Local Democracy Reporter
Tuesday, 23rd June 2020, 1:25 pm
So far, more than 4000 antibody tests have been carried out in Scotland for surveillance purposes. Photo by Simon Dawson - Pool/Getty Images.
So far, more than 4000 antibody tests have been carried out in Scotland for surveillance purposes. Photo by Simon Dawson - Pool/Getty Images.

Dr Gregor Smith wrote to all NHS boards to say that due to a lack of clinical evidence concerning the protection provided by antibodies the only safe option is to assume there is no meaningful immunity until evidence shows otherwise.

Antibody testing is currently used in Scotland to monitor populations and this will continue. So far, more than 4000 tests have been carried out for surveillance purposes.

Dr Smith said: “Having assessed the research available, there is currently insufficient clinical evidence to absolutely conclude that people who have recovered from Covid-19 are protected from either a second infection or from infecting others.

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“Until such evidence exists the main public health benefits are for research purposes or in the clinical management of patients.

“The World Health Organisation and SAGE have warned there are potentially negative impacts on public health if individuals assume immunity from a positive result and adapt their behaviour in a way which could increase the risk of continued transmission.

“On this basis, advice to health boards is not to offer on-demand antibody testing.

“Our approach is being kept under ongoing review. If clinical evidence around immunity changes we will swiftly roll out a national antibody testing programme in order to realise the potential health, social and economic benefits this would offer, and are preparing now for that prospect.”