The first COVID-19 antibody tests at Cayman Islands Hospital were conducted Friday morning, with frontline healthcare workers taking priority.
The Immunoglobulin G, or IgG, antibody testing will provide public health officials with additional data to improve understanding of COVID-19’s prevalence in the islands, explained Lizette Yearwood, chief executive officer of the Health Services Authority.
Rather than indicating if an individual is currently infected with the novel coronavirus, the antibody tests screen for past infection. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body to fight disease and their presence identifies previous infection.
While antibodies can provide immunity to a specific disease, there is still much to be determined about coronavirus antibodies and the level of protection they provide.
Yearwood advised that such testing should not be taken an indication that an individual is in the clear from COVID-19 risk.
“The antibody testing does not mean that there is immunity,” she said.
“There are some persons, even persons who were positive for COVID-19, that may not have mounted immunity. So that’s important.”
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee expanded on the topic of antibody testing and immunity during a press briefing on Friday, 19 June.
“A lot of doctors are saying that there’s likely to be an element of immunity. We are not seeing a huge number of re-infection from SARS-CoV-2. It is rampant in some countries but we’re not seeing a lot of people presenting again and again,” Lee said.
“We would if there was no immunity from it. However, how long that immunity lasts and whether a positive IgG test means you’re immune or not, those very basic questions we don’t know the answer to.”
Antibody testing will allow Cayman, however, to pursue plasma treatment for hospitalised COVID-19 patients, Lee said. Testing will help identify good candidates for plasma donations that could benefit patients battling the virus.
For the first day of antibody tests, Yearwood said HSA workers were navigating the logistics of the new service and determining how many patients and tests could be processed in a day. Seventy workers were scheduled for testing on day one, but the goal is to increase testing numbers as the process is perfected.
“We recognise that the antibody testing is a little more labour intensive on the frontline [than COVID-19 testing] because it requires a blood draw but it can be resulted a lot quicker,” Yearwood said.
“We can result up to 150 per hour, so we should be able to get results very quickly.”
A list of priority groups have been identified for testing, starting with healthcare workers, and then moving on to categories including police, grocery store workers and bank tellers. High-risk groups, such as individuals over 70 and dialysis and oncology patients, will also be included in the first rounds of testing.
Samantha Bennett, the chief human resources officer at the HSA, had the honour of taking the first test, with phlebotomist Sean Clarke drawing her blood.
She described the process as quick, easy and similar to a standard blood test.
“I just want to know if I’ve been [exposed] to it and I decided I was going to sign up right away,” she said.
“I encourage everybody to do it. It would be good to know who has been exposed and how much is out there.”
Health City Cayman Islands also announced it would begin antibody testing at the beginning of June. Lee said the start of testing there was imminent.
The East End facility is using a Roche analyser machine, approved by Public Health England, for its antibody testing. Dr. Binoy Chattuparambil indicated results could be produced in around 18 minutes. He anticipated Health City would be able to test 500 people a day.