UW starts testing people with COVID antibody test that boasts nearly 100% accuracy

The UW Medicine Virology Lab is one of the first in the country to get a new Abbott test that checks your blood for a special COVID-19 antibody.

“This is an important, new type of testing that we haven’t had access to before,” said Keith Jerome, the director of the UW Medicine.

People who think they might’ve already had coronavirus can ask their doctors to order a test through the UW Medicine laboratory website here: https://depts.washington.edu/uwviro/. The state has not issued any guidelines yet on who can request one through their doctors, but UW scientists said those who might benefit most from knowing their COVID status would be essential workers.

On the first day of the test’s launch, KIRO7 heard from several people who wanted to get the test – but were told their doctors didn’t know about the new antibody testing at UW Virology labs.

UW Medicine said it was in the process of letting major health care providers know about the test that became available on Tuesday, and would be expanding communication as they roll out testing.

The lab said since Abbott Laboratories developed the new antibody test, UW researchers have been working 24/7 to verify the test’s effectiveness. Scientists said Friday they found the test can determine if someone had COVID with nearly 100% accuracy.

“It showed a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 99.6%,” said Alex Greniger, assistant director of the UW Virology Lab. “Diagnostically, this is one of the best tests we can offer,” he said.

“This is another turning point in the fight against this virus,” Jerome said.

The test specifically looks for what’s called an IgG antibody -- something your immune system makes after you get sick from COVID-19.

Abbott explains the IgG antibody “is a protein that the body produces in the late stages of infection and may remain for up to months and possibly years after a person has recovered.”

Unlike the nasal swab to check for the actual virus, this test requires a blood draw.

That vial of blood would get sent to UW labs and you’ll know if you’ve already been infected and have protection from the virus.

Right now, the UW Virology Lab can run 4,000 of the Abbott antibody tests a day. More equipment already on the way, which will quickly ramp up that capacity.

“Within just a couple of weeks, we’ll be able to do 12,000 to 14,000 a day. And this starts to get the point where we can make a difference in the population of our area, get people back to work,” Jerome said.

But who will get tested first? Researchers say details are being ironed out.

“How do we best roll this out to get the best info that allows us again to reestablish the economy and people’s social lives,” Jerome said.

You’ll need a recommendation from your doctor for the test -- and likely, the most essential workers will get tested first.

“For example, being a first line health provider, being first line in the grocery stores. All the people at risk right now, this can allow people to have more confidence in their day to day lives,” Jerome said.

However, the state cautioned on Tuesday there is still too little known about coronavirus antibodies to say how the test can help re-open the economy.

“Is that (having COVID-19 antibodies) enough to say, don't worry about going back into the public, you can't contract COVID-19, or if you contract it you can't spread it? Those are uncertainties we don't know the answer to,” said Dr. Charissa Fotinos of the Washington State Health Care Authority.

Still – there’s no denying people want to know if they’ve had COVID-19.

Abbott Labs plan to ship four million tests in April and 20 million of the tests across the United States by June.

The latest antibody test is the third test Abbott has produced. It’s also launched a COVID-19 molecular test and the ID Now Rapid test, though UW scientists indicated this latest test is the most accurate so far.

Researchers said having the antibodies give you protection from the virus -- but it doesn’t mean you’re immune for the rest of your life. You could get sick again. Still, they’re calling the test a milestone towards getting life back to normal.