A new test could be a game changer in helping individuals determine if they have a natural immunity to COVID-19 and whether or not a COVID vaccine is necessary.
The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave an Emergency Use Authorization to a new test called T-Detect, developed by Adaptive Biotechnologies, that identifies preexisting T-cell immunity in people who were infected by the COVID-19 virus. This is crucial for people who may have had symptoms and wonder whether or not they may have been exposed to COVID-19 but have not tested positive with a molecular or antigen diagnostic test.
Why are T-cells important? T-cells seek out cells infected with a virus they recognize and kill them, and they trigger antibody production. Destroying the infected cells stops the virus from growing inside them and calls upon other immune cells to find and eradicate any viruses swimming around in the bloodstream.
Another important characteristic of T-cells is that their response in the body can be detected in the blood several days after infection. Unfortunately, we do not know how long the T-cell immune response lasts after an infection or what level of protection may be provided by the T-cell immune response.
How Does T-Detect Work?
According to the company’s website, you answer eligibility questions and submit a payment of $159. Then an independent health care provider reviews your responses and, if appropriate, authorizes your test. A certified phlebotomist will draw your blood, then a lab will process the blood sample and share results with you within 7-10 days from shipment of the blood sample.
T-cell infection rates can help the public understand how much of a threat COVID-19 is, states Harlan Robbins, the chief scientific officer for Adaptive Biotechnologies.
“As infection rates continue to soar, T-cell testing can help us understand the true prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities as well as the degree to which our population is protected from future infection,” Robbins said. “At the individual level, the availability of a T-cell based clinical test could be useful for people who suspect they may have had COVID-19 but were either unable to get tested or had a negative PCR test at the time of their illness, and who want to know for sure whether they had the disease.”
T-Cell Tests Completely Unique
To understand the differences between the new T-cell immunity test and other tests, it helps to understand the other tests available for diagnosing COVID-19. Diagnostic tests used to determine if someone has an active COVID-19 infection fall into two categories: molecular and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, and antigen tests, which are mostly used for rapid testing.
A PCR test, according to the Cleveland Clinic, is performed to detect genetic material from a specific organism, such as a virus. This test detects the presence of a virus if you are infected at the time of the test, but the test could also detect fragments of the virus even after you are no longer infected.
PCR tests can be performed in a clinic, hospital, or even your car. The results generally take two to three days, but they can be returned in as little as 24 hours. However, when demand is high, results can take a week or longer.
An antigen test detects bits of proteins on the surface of the virus called antigens, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This test is typically considered rapid, taking only 15 to 30 minutes, but is less accurate than a PCR test.
Rapid antigen tests are most accurate when used within a few days of the start of symptoms, which is when the largest amount of virus is present in your body. This test can be done in a clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital, and the turnaround time for results can be less than 15 minutes. If symptoms are present and the test shows a negative result, a provider can order a PCR test.
The last test to be considered is the antibody test, which uses blood samples to look for antibodies produced by a person’s immune system to help fight off COVID-19. This test can detect if someone had a past COVID-19 infection, but not if they still are positive for the virus. The antibody test is often used in the procurement of plasma for monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19.
Media Ignores New Test
Despite the potential in mitigating COVID-19 transmission, the T-cell test has been largely ignored by the media.
“Oddly, I can find only one local news story and one each on Bloomberg and Yahoo News covering the availability of this test,” says Stacy Lennox in PJ Media. “Where is the head of the FDA encouraging people to get tested for this immunity before getting vaccinated? Why are the government and insurance companies covering the vaccine and the COVID-19 test but not the test for durable immunity to the virus?
“Once it was discovered that there was the possibility of preexisting immunity, just as they found with H1N1, this type of test should have been a public health priority to assess the real vulnerability in the population,” Lennox said.
T-cell testing could be a game-changer in controlling COVID-19 says Paul E. Alexander, Ph.D., a health research methodologist and assistant professor at McMaster University.
“It will say who has T-cell immunity that is long-lasting and will preclude you taking a largely untested vaccine,” Alexander told Health Care News.
“It will help open up society and preclude the need for passports and the like,” Alexander said. “People should get the test because it allows them to take matters into their own hands, assuming it works well and is validated.”
Kenneth Artz (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Dallas, Texas.