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WATCH: Antibody tests could start this week – but how far can we trust them?

WATCH: Antibody tests could start this week – but how far can we trust them?

Tuesday 21 April 2020

WATCH: Antibody tests could start this week – but how far can we trust them?

Tuesday 21 April 2020


2,000 islanders could be tested to see if they have had covid-19 by the end of this week – but it’s unclear how accurate the tests will have to be for the government to agree for them to be used.

The government placed an order for 150,000 antibody tests earlier this month, with 50,000 from another supplier called Healgen now having arrived on the island and being examined for their reliability.

Now the Chief Minister says that up to 2,000 of the pin-prick blood tests could be performed by the end of this week, and that the government will able to “evaluate the data” and decide how it could fit into plans to start easing lockdown restrictions.

Although the official strategy is still being drawn up, Senator Le Fondré has previously admitted that testing to establish which islanders have immunity from covid-19 will be key to “influencing and informing” the approach to getting people out of their homes

Video: The Chief Minister speaking at yesterday's press conference.

But this comes despite guidance from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that such tests should only be used in research settings

"They should not be used in any other setting, including for clinical decision-making, until evidence supporting use for specific indications is available," WHO advises.

Furthermore, global researchers haven’t ruled out the possibility of people getting the virus more than once, as immunity from having had the virus may not be permanent.

Meanwhile, the UK’s testing chief has expressed concern that current antibody tests can only accurately identify immunity in people who had been severely ill. Officials said a test meeting the desired accuracy level had not yet been created. 

When Express raised this with the Chief Minister yesterday, he said he was aware there are “sometimes concerns around the quality of the kits”, adding: “That’s why it’s important that we are doing our evaluation.” 

Video: A promotional video for the Healgen kits.

He continued: “My fundamental understanding on that is that it is critically important that the tests are performed by medical staff and are done in a laboratory environment and I believe that’s part of that evaluation being done.” 

According to research published online, the accuracy of the Healgen kits – tests which NBC reported have not received approval from China’s key health standards authority, the Centre for Medical Device Evaluation – varies dramatically.

Some results pitch their accuracy around the 62% mark, while others have put it as high as 97%.

The Chief Minister did not provide an answer when Express asked what the government considered an acceptable level of accuracy for them to be used. 

He did, however, explain that a different type of antibody test had already been rejected because there were “issues around cross-contamination and that affected the results”.

Deputy Mike Higgins asked a similar question of the Health Minister, Deputy Richard Renouf, during this morning’s States Assembly meeting. 

hmrenouf.jpg

Pictured: The Health Minister also did not confirm what level of accuracy was being sought.

The Health Minister was also unable to provide an answer, but said: “I’d like to assure the Deputy that a programme is being planned, which will allow sampling of what is presently considered a sample of 2,000 people from across the island in order to give us a picture of how the infection may have spread across our community.” 

He added that this would be done in conjunction with Statistics Jersey and the Public Health.

Express has asked the Chief Minister, the Director General of Health, and government officials for the name of the supplier of the 150,000 tests on their way to the island to establish their recorded accuracy levels and whether they have received approval, and is yet to receive a response.

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