Antibody tests don't offer strong insights on immunity, infectious disease experts warn

Heightened discussions about the need for COVID-19 booster shots may be driving an uptick in antibody test requests at some hospitals, though experts say the test results are not a helpful indicator of immunity status, according to an Oct. 1 report from Pew Charitable Trusts. 

The FDA, CDC and Infectious Disease Society of America do not recommend using antibody tests to determine immunity levels against COVID-19. That's because scientists are still unclear about the level of antibodies needed to offer protection against the virus.

"Doctors are ordering antibody tests for people who are worried about waning immunity, but I see that as problematic," Alan Wells, MD, director of clinical labs at the University of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Medical Center told Pew. "For a normal person, knowing your level eight months later [after their initial vaccination dosages] is of relatively little value."

Dr. Wells said his hospital — like others — has seen a jump in requests for antibody testing in recent weeks. He's recommended colleagues use the tests judiciously.

Mary Hopkins, MD, associate program director of the infectious disease fellowship program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said she finds antibody tests useful for patients suspected of having long COVID-19 who never got a PCR test to confirm they had the virus. Antibody tests can also be helpful to determine whether some populations, such as nursing home residents, developed antibodies after vaccination. 

To view the full report, click here.

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