Health boards have been advised by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) to focus on using coronavirus (COVID-19) antibody tests to improve understanding of the virus and in the clinical management of patients.
The CMO Dr Gregor Smith has written to all NHS boards outlining that as there is currently insufficient clinical evidence showing the degree of protection antibodies give, or the duration of any protection, the only clinically safe option is to assume no meaningful immunity from a positive result until evidence shows otherwise.
Currently antibody tests are used in Scotland for surveillance measures to provide population-level information on COVID-19 and these tests will continue to be used in this way. So far 4,431 antibody tests for surveillance purposes have been completed.
Dr Smith said:
“Having assessed the research available, there is currently insufficient clinical evidence to absolutely conclude that people who have recovered from COVID-19 are protected from either a second infection or from infecting others.
“Until such evidence exists the main public health benefits are for research purposes or in the clinical management of patients. The World Health Organisation and SAGE have warned there are potentially negative impacts on public health if individuals assume immunity from a positive result and adapt their behaviour in a way which could increase the risk of continued transmission.
“On this basis, advice to health boards is not to offer on-demand antibody testing.
“Our approach is being kept under ongoing review. If clinical evidence around immunity changes we will swiftly roll out a national antibody testing programme in order to realise the potential health, social and economic benefits this would offer, and are preparing now for that prospect.”
The Scottish Government is currently investigating new research opportunities and is encouraging health boards to participate in the UK-wide SIREN study which will examine potential immunity in healthcare workers and inform our understanding of prevalence.
In total 4,431 antibody tests for surveillance purposes have been completed as of 19 June.