Prepping for a possible round two
Vaccines, antibody testing could be part of response
EVEN AS STATES begin to reopen, a growing chorus of researchers and doctors are openly worrying that there could be a resurgence of coronavirus, possibly in the fall.
Conventional wisdom holds that a vaccine won’t be ready by then, but some are holding out hope. Moderna has received approval for phase 2 testing of its vaccine and is hoping to enter the final phase 3 testing by the end of the summer. Pfizer, Inovio, and other companies around the world are also doing human testing, and most of the companies are making vaccine manufacturing preparations even before their products have received a green light from the FDA. Pfizer, in fact, is counting on its Andover facility to play a critical role in its manufacturing buildup.
If the vaccine isn’t ready when and if the coronavirus returns (and keep in mind it hasn’t really subsided yet, at least in Massachusetts), some are looking to antibody testing as a way to prepare or at least cope.
Antibody, or serology, testing attempts to measure the level of antibodies to the coronavirus in people. The existence of antibodies is an indicator of previous infection and may be an indicator of future immunity, but that’s far from certain. A large number of people have recovered from the disease and a potentially large number may have been infected and not known it. Some speculate that widespread antibody testing may reveal that so many people have been infected with the virus that the state as a whole could have developed or may be nearing herd immunity.
Even so, researchers are moving full steam ahead on antibody testing. State officials are willing to collaborate, but not provide funding, according to a Department of Public Health spokesperson.
Serology testing “is very important for understanding the epidemiology of COVID,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director of the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences at the DPH. “We are working with researchers to look at population immunity to COVID and expect to be involved in a number of studies.”
Massachusetts General Hospital is conducting an antibody study for the Boston Public Health Commission of 1,000 randomly-selected residents from Roslindale, East Boston, and parts of Dorchester. Brookline is also conducting random antibody testing.
Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu recently tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies despite never exhibiting symptoms, which means she presumably was infected with the virus without knowing that.
The big question is whether the existence of antibodies means a person is immune to the novel coronavirus.“There’s no proof that having the antibodies means that you are either protected from getting reinfected or that you are not capable of transmitting the virus if you still have it to other people,” said Dr. David Walt, professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School.
It would have huge, negative public health implications if it turns out people can still spread the disease after they’ve recovered, says NPR’s Richard Harris. Studies from China and South Korea seemed to suggest this is possible.