Most people should not get a COVID-19 antibody test.
There is a lot of excitement about COVID-19 antibody tests. But there are two reasons I think most people should NOT get a test. Here’s why.
Problem 1. Antibody tests might not be accurate. There is variability in the quality of these tests. Many of the available antibody tests too often return false positive results; the test is positive but you have not actually been exposed to COVID-19. A false positive means that you think you’re safe, but you’re not!
Problem 2: We don’t know yet what it means to be immune to COVID-19. For many viruses, like chicken pox and measles, years of research have made doctors confident in saying: “if your antibody level is over a certain amount, you are immune and cannot get the disease again.” For the novel coronavirus, we don’t know what that level is, or for how long that immunity lasts.
So even if your test happens to be right, and you have antibodies, experts agree that it is not safe to stop hand washing, social distancing, and wearing masks to prevent COVID-19. Ultimately, the result of an antibody test should not change what you do to protect yourself.
As doctors learn more about novel coronavirus and the body’s response to it, they’ll be able to pick the best tests and know what to do with the results. And antibody tests are already useful for research, where a few wrong results don’t matter too much. But like everything with COVID-19, antibody tests are a work in progress.
Last update: May 14th, 2020, 3:24 pm ET
Science review: JAB, ERS