Coronavirus tests that can reveal who has already recovered will become available in 'a week or so,' Fauci says. Those people could go back to work first.
New tests can identify people who have recovered from COVID-19 by searching for coronavirus antibodies in the blood. "A rather large number" of these tests will be available in the US "within a period of a week or so," Dr. Anthony Fauci said. Fauci has expressed confidence that recovered coronavirus patients will be immune, though further research is needed to be sure. That means identifying people who have recovered is critical in getting people back to work and school. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
More than 95% of Americans are under stay-at-home orders, and at least one-third of the world is under some type of lockdown. The restrictions promote social distancing to "flatten the curve," or slow the coronavirus' spread to avoid overwhelming healthcare systems. But keeping so many people at home is tanking the global economy and depriving students of education. More than 10% of American workers have filed for unemployment in the past three weeks, and the US restaurant industry had already hemorrhaged about $25 billion by March 22. Major universities have switched to remote classes, and public schools are closed indefinitely in states including California, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Plus, of course, staying at home is making many of us lonely and stir-crazy. So the question on many people's minds is: When will the lockdowns end? Experts can't say for sure. The US's social-distancing guidelines have been extended through at least April 30. According to Davidson Hamer, a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University, some relief could come in mid-May. But epidemiologists at Harvard University think intermittent lockdowns may need to extend into 2022, with social-distancing measures in place 25% to 70% of the time. Read more: The top scientist at J&J told us how the $350 billion pharma giant will have a coronavirus vaccine ready at 'warp speed', then pump out 1 billion doses However, a new antibody test rolling out in the US within weeks offers a glimmer of hope. These tests will be able to tell whether a person has already had COVID-19, regardless of whether they ever showed symptoms. A positive result would mean they're probably immune. "Within a period of a week or so, we're going to have a rather large number of tests that are available," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN on Friday. Widespread antibody testing could divide America into two groups: the vulnerable and the recovered. The latter could slowly go back to work, breathing life into the US economy and helping us get back on track before a vaccine becomes available. Identifying people who are immune The coming serological tests use a few drops of your blood to determine whether you have antibodies for the coronavirus. If so, your body has built up immunity — suggesting that you've recovered, even if you never received a positive diagnosis. Antibody tests differ from the diagnostic tests used to determine whether someone has an active COVID-19 infection. The latter involves taking samples of mucus and saliva and running a test in a lab to see whether those samples contain the coronavirus' genomic sequence. The results can take one to two days.
A serological test, on the other hand, can tell within minutes whether a person has coronavirus antibodies — similar to the way home pregnancy tests and HIV antibody tests work. A kit includes a needle (to prick your finger), a 3-inch mixing stick, and a test solution. It's like dusting for its fingerprints after a crime, rather than catching the virus in the act. Antibody tests in the works On March 26, Henry Schein announced the availability of hundreds of thousands of antibody tests in the US that can deliver results within 15 minutes. The company said it expected "significantly increased availability" in April.
In Colorado, United Biomedical is working with one county to test 8,000 residents for coronavirus antibodies. Other US companies are already selling antibody tests abroad. The California biotech company Biomerica sells coronavirus antibody tests for less than $10 in Europe and the Middle East, while Chembio Diagnostics, a medical-device company based in New York, is sending its antibody tests to Brazil and plans to study them in the US, Reuters reported last month. The UK government bought millions of at-home antibody tests, but found that they aren't accurate enough to distribute. Australia, meanwhile, has ordered 1.5 million tests. Scientists at Germany's Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research also want to send out hundreds of thousands of antibody tests over the coming weeks to residents, Der Spiegel magazine reported on March 27. Germany might even issue "immunity certificates" based on the results. Gerard Krause, the epidemiologist leading the project, told Der Spiegel that people who are immune "could be given a type of vaccination card that, for example, allows them to be exempted" from restrictions on their movement and travel. Fauci, too, told CNN that there could be "merit" to the idea of certificates of immunity in the US, adding: "This is something that's being discussed." 'The first people to go back to normal life' As antibody tests start to be distributed, experts will be able to identify people who have most likely developed some level of immunity to the coronavirus. In an interview on March 26, Fauci said he was confident that recovered coronavirus patients would have immunity, adding that he'd be "willing to bet anything that people who recover are really protected against reinfection." That means people who've recovered could safely return to work or school. "Ultimately, this might help us figure out who can get the country back to normal," Florian Krammer, a professor in vaccinology at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine, told Reuters in March, adding that "people who are immune could be the first people to go back to normal life and start everything up again." Krammer and his colleagues gave an overview of their own COVID-19 serological test in a recent study, though it has yet to be peer-reviewed.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious-diseases professor at Vanderbilt University, told Reuters that serological tests would be appealing to political and business leaders alike. "These tests would be very attractive if they're cost-effective, readily available, and easy to do," he said. Antibody tests would also give experts a better sense of how bad the pandemic really is One of the biggest challenges surrounding the outbreak has been experts' inability to accurately assess how many people have been infected. That's imperative because the data informs death rates and tells experts whether we are approaching "herd immunity," the point at which the virus can no longer spread easily because enough people are immune. The diagnostic testing we have now isn't enough to give experts a clear sense of the true case totals, because many people who likely have COVID-19 aren't being tested. In New York City, which has about 20% of the US's coronavirus cases, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has told New Yorkers who think they have mild cases to stay home and not seek care (or tests). "If you think you have COVID-19 and your illness is mild, you do not need to see your health care provider and you will not be tested," the department's site said.
What's more, between 25% and 50% of people infected with the virus show no symptoms at all, according to Fauci. Almost all of those asymptomatic people are not included in official counts either, but an antibody could help identify them. "As we get to the point of at least considering opening up the country as it were, it's very important to appreciate and to understand how much that virus has penetrated this society," Fauci told CNN. "Because it's very likely that there are a large number of people out there that have been infected, have been asymptomatic and did not know they were infected." The benefits of serological tests cannot be overstated, according to George Miller, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. "COVID-19 is still spreading rapidly throughout the United States, and antibody tests remain an underappreciated weapon in our fight to stop it," he wrote in an op-ed article in The Washington Post on April 1. "Armed with such tests, we can provide the public with much more specific information about their own susceptibility, possibly permit immune individuals to return to work, and help people make more informed decisions about when and whether to loosen restrictions on their social activities." Morgan McFall-Johnsen and Holly Secon contributed reporting.SEE ALSO: New antibody tests can detect whether people have had the coronavirus after they recover, but scientists still aren't sure whether people can get reinfected Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: What could be the fastest way to end the coronavirus crisis?
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CDC clarifies that science does not imply people are immune to coronavirus in the 3 months after infection
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its coronavirus quarantine guidelines to make...The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its coronavirus quarantine guidelines to make an exception for people who have had the virus in the last three months. The CDC released a statement on Friday clarifying that it was not saying those people have immunity against reinfection — instead, they're less likely to be infectious. Growing research shows that people who recover from COVID-19 develop some immunity, but experts don't yet know how long that lasts. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. The human body's immune response to the coronavirus remains a mystery, even in the months immediately following infection. It's still unclear how long people who recover from the virus are immune to reinfection. Research on the subject is so inconclusive that the CDC has hesitated to define that time period. The agency seemed to do that for the first time in early August when it updated its quarantine guidelines to exclude people who have had the virus in the last three months. But on Friday the CDC issued a statement clarifying that it was not saying those people have immunity. "On August 3, 2020, CDC updated its isolation guidance based on the latest science about COVID-19 showing that people can continue to test positive for up to three months after diagnosis and not be infectious to others," read a statement the agency issued on Friday. "Contrary to media reporting today, this science does not imply a person is immune to reinfection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the three months following infection." The August 3 update had seemed to imply that people would probably be safe from reinfection for three months. Those guidelines say that people who have had COVID-19 in the last three months don't need to quarantine or get tested as long as they don't develop symptoms again — even if they have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, which seems to imply that they are not susceptible to reinfection. Instead, a CDC spokesperson told CNN, the new guidance was "based on the latest science about COVID-19 showing that people can continue to test positive for up to three months after diagnosis and not be infectious to others." People who recover from COVID-19 probably gain some immunity The Friday statement pointed to the results of 15 recent studies on how and when people can spread the virus. The research suggested that the amount of live virus in a person's nose and throat (which can then get into the air and spread to other people) drops significantly soon after they show symptoms. The science also shows that most people are infectious for no longer than 10 days after their first symptoms — 20 days for people who are severely ill or immunocompromised. Other research has shown that antibodies can disappear quickly after infection. But many experts believe that people who recover from the coronavirus do gain some immunity. That's because the immune response doesn't just come from antibodies. Other agents which don't show up in antibody tests mount an immune response to the virus if it re-enters the body. White blood cells can identify and kill infected cells, as well as create new antibodies to fight back the pathogen. Early research has shown that recovered patients do retain some of these white blood cells, which last much longer than the antibodies themselves. "There's a lot that we are still learning," Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist serving as the World Health Organization's technical lead on the coronavirus, said in a press briefing on Thursday. "We expect that individuals infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus develop an immune response. We don't know for how long that immune response lasts. We don't know how strong it is."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: How billionaires got $637 billion richer during the coronavirus pandemic
Experts suspect – but there is no proof – that antibodies will confer immunity. The implications...Experts suspect – but there is no proof – that antibodies will confer immunity. The implications could be wide-rangingCoronavirus – latest global updatesScrolling through Airbnbs in Brooklyn, one listing stands out. “IMMUNE HOST,” claims the heading in caps. Among photos of rooftop sunsets and interiors, lies something else unexpected – a picture of a positive antibody test. Related: Is it safe to protest during a pandemic? Experts answer our questions Continue reading...
Fauci offers an optimistic timeline for a coronavirus vaccine: a trial of 30,000 people next month, and 200 million doses by 2021
Anthony Fauci said this week that hundreds of millions of coronavirus vaccine doses could be ready...Anthony Fauci said this week that hundreds of millions of coronavirus vaccine doses could be ready by early 2021. Moderna will begin testing its vaccine candidate on 30,000 people in July, Fauci said, and other companies are expected to start that final trial phase this summer as well. The US plans to mass-produce vaccines before knowing whether they work. Fauci still worries about how much protection they'll confer. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. Pharmaceutical companies are preparing to test their coronavirus vaccines on tens of thousands of people this summer. The fast-moving process has garnered an optimistic outlook from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who said on Tuesday that the US could have hundreds of millions of approved vaccines by 2021. Moderna will begin giving its COVID-19 vaccine to 30,000 people in the first week of July, Fauci told JAMA editor Howard Bauchner in a livestreamed conversation. That's phase three of the clinical-development process — the final trial stage before a vaccine can gain approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. In the meantime, Fauci said, the US will begin mass-producing the vaccines so it can distribute them once they gain FDA approval. "We're going to start manufacturing doses of the vaccines way before we even know that the vaccine works," Fauci said. "We may know whether it's efficacious or not by maybe November, December. Which means that by that time, we hopefully would have close to 100 million doses. And by the beginning of 2021, we hope to have a couple of hundred million doses." Fauci added that he was involved in at least four other vaccine trials that will start throughout the summer. Among all these efforts, he's "cautiously optimistic" that one will produce an effective vaccine that can be distributed to the public. "If the body is capable of making an immune response to clear the virus in natural infection, that's a pretty good proof of concept to say that you're going to make an immune response in response to a vaccine," Fauci said. But he added: "There's never a guarantee, ever, that you're going to get an effective vaccine." Lingering questions about immunity and vaccines Researchers are still missing two key pieces of information about immunity to the coronavirus: whether everybody who gets infected develops immunity, and how long that protection lasts. "I have examples of people who were clearly infected, who are antibody-negative," Fauci said, adding that those people likely have antibody counts too low for the test to detect. It's unclear if such low antibody levels are enough to protect someone from reinfection. Other recovered patients, meanwhile, show high antibody counts. "It isn't a uniformly robust antibody response," Fauci added. That could mean that a vaccine might not produce high levels of antibodies in some people. For those who do gain immunity from a vaccine, it's also unclear how long that protection would last. Other coronaviruses — the kind that cause common cold — produce immunity that lasts less than a year, and in some cases just a few months. "It may be completely different with this coronavirus," Fauci said. "We don't know."Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: The coronavirus could affect the accuracy of the 2020 census — and that could decide who gets a vaccine