Learn more about the status of antibody testing in B.C., testing formats, using results and ongoing research.
Over the past several weeks several health authority laboratories have assessed the accuracy of and performance of both lab-based and point-of-care COVID-19 antibody testing kits under a research use only framework. This is an important step to ensure that the test will work both accurately and precisely once deployed.
Serological testing to investigate immune response to COVID-19 infection is not yet available for clinical use in B.C. The most recent announcement of Health Canada’s authorization of the first COVID-19 antibody test for use in Canada is a further important step to allow for the creation of a provincial antibody testing framework.
As the situation progresses this site will be updated regarding the indications and availability of testing across the province.
Serological testing can detect the presence of antibodies arising from infection with the virus causing COVID-19 infection. These antibodies typically appear later in the course of infection. The two testing formats available include:
Lab-based high-volume serology testing - This format typically requires blood collection by venipuncture.
Point-of-care testing - This format is low complexity, lending itself to use in a variety of settings and typically provides results within 15 to 30 minutes. This testing format requires collection of a few drops of blood obtained through a finger puncture.
Antibody testing provides evidence for whether someone may have been previously infected with the virus causing COVID-19, however there are limitations to these tests. Overall prevalence of COVID-19 infection in B.C. is predicted to have been low and testing for antibodies may yield a greater proportion of false positive results.
- Antibody tests are best used in people who are more likely to have had infection (e.g., symptoms, contacts).
- It is not clear if everyone with past COVID-19 infection would mount a measurable immune response that can be detected by antibody testing; they may, therefore, be susceptible to re-infection.
- There is no evidence yet available to indicate whether individuals with antibodies to the virus causing COVID-19 are immune from re-infection or can still be infectious.
- There may be limited clinical scenarios where antibody testing may be helpful in making a diagnosis of COVID-19 infection (e.g., patients with atypical presentations or presenting two weeks or later after symptom onset when nucleic acid testing is more likely to be negative). These scenarios are likely to change as the epidemiology of COVID-19 infection changes in B.C. and world-wide.
An immediate priority for antibody testing is to better understand the epidemiology of COVID-19 infection in B.C. The population health survey that invites input from British Columbians about the impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic public health measures also invites participants to sign-up to participate in a community serology survey later this year to help determine immunity across the population.
As we gather evidence about the accuracy of these antibody tests in B.C. and their correlation with protection from re-infection, this will be used to determine what the indications will be for their more general use, and which will be reimbursed by the Medical Services Plan (MSP). It is anticipated that testing will be widely available in the province, for those that meet the indications.