An antibody testing programme for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 is to be launched across the UK.
The government’s new programme is intended to produce data on antibody protections for people following infection by different coronavirus variants.
From Tuesday, anyone aged 18 or over in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, will be able to opt in to the programme when receiving a PCR test.
If a participant tests positive for COVID-19 then they will be sent two finger prick antibody tests to complete at home and send back for analysis.
The first of these tests should be taken as soon as possible after the patient receives their positive result, and the second should be taken 28 days later.
Up to 8,000 people will be rolled in the programme, according the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which is running it.
UKHSA, working alongside NHS Test and Trace, will use the results to monitor antibody levels in positive cases.
According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the programme will be the first time antibody tests have been made available to the general public.
The scheme could help DHSC build up information on groups of people who don’t develop an immune response after vaccination or infection.
The data could be used to “inform the ongoing approach to the pandemic and give further insight into the effectiveness of vaccines on new variants,” DHSC said.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the programme will build on the “massive wall of defence” that is the UK vaccination programme.
“Our new national antibody testing will be quick and easy to take part in [and by] doing so you’ll be helping strengthen our understanding of COVID-19 as we cautiously return to a more normal life,” he said.
“I’m proud to see all parts of the UK uniting around this new initiative and working together to arm ourselves with even more valuable insights into how COVID-19 vaccines are protecting people up and down the UK.”
It is important that the antibody test is taken as soon as possible so that the body hasn’t yet had the chance to generate a detectable antibody response to the infection.
The second test, taken 28 days later, will measure antibodies generated in response to the infection.
UKHSA’s chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “We are rolling out antibody testing across the UK to gain vital data into the impact of our vaccination programme and on immune responses to different variants of COVID-19.
“This has been made possible thanks to the incredible British public who continue to come forward for testing when they develop symptoms and the millions of people who have had their jabs.
“The best way to protect yourself and those around you is by getting vaccinated. I encourage anyone who has not yet come forward to book their first and second jabs.”