Several COVID-19 antibody studies underway in Quebec

Quebec research will reveal prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies in general population and specific vulnerable groups.
By: Stewart Wiseman
July 20, 2020
Photo: Cheney Orr / Reuters

Several studies are now underway in Quebec to test for the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies in the general population. The presence of COVID-19 antibodies in blood serum is a strong indicator that an individual has already been exposed to the virus, as antibodies are produced by the body's immune system when responding to a pathogen. The presence of COVID-19 antibodies in blood serum may provide immunity for an individual contracting the virus again.

Héma-Quebec, Quebec's blood donation agency, plans to reveal its findings this week for a study on the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies in Quebec. The organization began analyzing blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies in May, and says that it has now tested the samples of several thousand donors aged 18 to 70. Héma-Quebec's research marks the first serologic study in the province for COVID-19 antibodies, and experts say that the results will provide the first hints at how many Quebecers have already been exposed to the coronavirus.

Dr. Michel Roger's team of researchers at the Laboratoire de santé publique du Québec is also preparing to begin studying blood samples for COVID-19 antibodies. Dr. Roger's serological studies are focused on specific populations, including health workers and CHSLD senior residents, to study the potential levels of immunity in these more vulnerable groups. Dr. Roger said that the study is currently facing a delay as the researchers await an increase in the capacity of blood testing centres in hospitals and clinics to manage the extra demand. Once ready, the research team will be able to analyze thousands of tests per day. “We’re waiting for the ‘go’ from Public Health to start the tests,” said Dr. Roger.

There is reason for caution surrounding antibody testing, as evidence is mounting that COVID-19 antibodies do not survive for long in the body after recovery, said Dr. Charu Kaushic of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). Dr. Kaushic noted that experts are no longer discussing the effectiveness of herd immunity, as there have been increased reports of individuals being reinfected by COVID-19. Dr. Roger said that preliminary research on COVID-19 antibodies has revealed that the virus immune response does not result in a significant number of antibodies, and the antibodies that are produced are short-lived and not very effective. Despite these warnings, Dr. Roger says that these findings must be validated by further research, and that the new Quebec antibody studies are an important step towards better understanding the coronavirus.

Source: Montreal Gazette



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