Prisma Health now has the ability to do COVID-19 antibody tests

Updated: Apr. 27, 2020 at 8:15 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Prisma Health now has coronavirus antibody tests available.

According to the hospital and Dr. Helmut Albrecht, the Midlands’ main investigator for the convalescent plasma project, Prisma patients can now get tested to see if their body has developed some resilience to COVID-19.

Albrecht said all Prisma laboratories have the test and providers within the system can now order them for patients. However, he didn’t have any details on logistics like billing and insurance coverage. A spokesperson for the hospital added they are still developing the plan for the tests’ use and rollout.

But Albrecht said they’ve already begun to treat some patients suffering from COVID-19 with the plasma from those who have recovered from the virus.

“It’s probably the most promising treatment approach we have currently,” Albrecht said. "We have been surprised by how well some of our patients have been doing.”

Albrecht said he believes there are a lot of people who may be able to donate plasma and save a life and don’t know it. Citing research from recent studies, he said it’s possible for every patient diagnosed there can be as many as 50 others who were asymptomatic for COVID-19.

Therefore, with the rollout of this new test, he hopes to be able to identify more people who could donate plasma to help save others.

Antibody tests can also tell patients if they had COVID-19, help epidemiologists track the spread of the virus, and could help determine if someone is immune to getting coronavirus in the future.

On Saturday, the World Health Organization tweeted a correction to an earlier statement they made about immunity from the coronavirus. The WHO is now saying antibodies may offer people some protection from COVID-19 after tweeting there is no proof antibodies offer protection from potentially getting the virus a second time.

Albrecht explained antibody tests are still valuable, but scientists still don’t know everything about them yet.

"We don't completely know what they mean," he said. "If you have antibodies, will you be immune? How long will you be immune? So, all these questions need to be answered."

But Albrecht added without doing the tests, scientists will never be able to answer these questions.

The test can be performed in a couple of different ways. One version looks like a pregnancy test using a small amount of blood from a finger prick. The other, he said, is like a standard blood test.

However, if people are skeptical about testing surrounding the coronavirus after issues accessing diagnostic tests, Albrecht said this will be smoother and faster. He said it can take just minutes from the time the lab gets the test to when the results are ready. He even said they have a quick test that just takes one minute. In addition, the materials for an antibody test are easier to get and hospitals now have a lot of the infrastructure needed to make the tests widely available.

Albrecht said where they are now is a start, but his team is going to keep working,

"I want it tighter and I want to know that these are so-called neutralizing antibodies. Not only that the antibodies are there, but they can neutralize the virus," Albrecht said.

For now, his biggest mission is finding potential COVID-19 plasma donors to help patients suffering from the disease.

If you can prove you’ve already had COVID-19 and want to donate plasma to help save a life, contact The Blood Connection at (864)-751-1168.

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