A major pharmaceutical firm is ready to begin shipping five million antibody kits to Britain a month after its test became the second given the green light by health officials.
Abbott tests have been found to be 99.73% to 100% specific at flagging up antibodies that that could be key to showing who has already had Covid-19.
A company statement confirmed it can begin providing the kits to the UK “with immediate effect” and is “working closely” with the NHS, having already began shipping to the health service’s labs.
It’s the second test in as many days to be given the thumbs up by Public Health England following the approval of one created by industry giant Roche.
Boris Johnson has previously described the Roche test – found to be 99.81% specific and 100% sensitive – as a “game-changer”.
Number 10 said the new antibody test would “certainly” be available on the NHS, but commercial discussions with Roche are ongoing.
Roche said it could supply hundreds of thousands of the tests each week.
The pharmaceutical firm said it would prioritise tests for distribution via the NHS before looking at how they may be sold to individuals.
Referring to the Roche test, Jonathan Van-Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, said: “This is a good test that will stand us in good stead, moving forwards, and I think it will be incredibly important as the days, weeks and months go by.
“I anticipate that it will be rapidly rolled out in the days and weeks to come, as soon as it is practical to do so.
“I also anticipate that the focus will be on the National Health Service and on carers in the first instance,” he told a news briefing yesterday.
Mr Van-Tam cautioned, however, that scientists still had limited understanding of whether antibodies provided immunity, to what extent and for how long.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the idea of an “immunity certificate” was also still under consideration if science showed that people developed immunity to Covid-19.
The Department of Health and Social Care has said “antibody testing is an important part of our strategy” and it is exploring its use “across the NHS and ultimately the wider public”.
A spokesman said antibody testing comes in addition to “recent huge expansion” of the UK’s swab-based virus testing capacity.
“We are delighted that devices are progressing through validation, and are actively working on our plans for rolling out antibody testing and will make announcements in due course,” they added.
The antibody tests – also known as a serology test – show who has been infected, although it is not yet clear whether the presence of antibodies to the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, confers permanent immunity.
They require a blood test that can be run on fully-automated equipment in laboratories to provide results in just 18 minutes.