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Why antibody testing is not recommended to assess immunity after your COVID shot

Home Antibody Test
Posted at 10:12 PM, Jul 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-23 11:12:19-04

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. -- A Mechanicsville resident reached out to the CBS 6 Problem's Solvers after he said an antibody test he received after his COVID-19 vaccination showed no antibodies in his system.

Robert Tapp had spent the last year living on edge.

"A lot of the doctors were telling me, 'be really super careful because you are high risk," said Tapp. "I was informed that if I got it, I would not be able to fight it off. That it would probably take my life."

Tapp said he spent months limiting time outside his Mechanicsville home and isolating from the rest of the world amid the pandemic but was able to find relief after getting his Johnson and Johnson shot in March.

That relief faded last week.

"On July 15, the doctor did a blood test for the antibodies to make sure it was in my system. He called me and said there’s no antibodies in your system," Tapp said.

Tapp said he was 'petrified' upon hearing the news, caught off guard and felt like he was back at square one.

"We just don't go anywhere. I don't. I stay home," said Tapp. "I need something to know that I'm safe."

However, health leaders stressed that antibody testing was not an FDA or CDC-recommended method of assessing immunity after the COVID-19 vaccination.

"The CDC and the FDA are of the strong position that we shouldn't even be using antibody testing in relation to vaccination," said Dr. Stephen Richard, Medical Director for the Richmond City and Henrico Health Districts. "The science to antibody testing post-vaccination is murky."

Dr. Richard said the antibody testing currently on the market was to screen whether someone has had a prior COVID infection and was not CDC or FDA recommended to assess whether someone has been adequately vaccinated.

"The accuracy of the testing is unclear. So, you shouldn't be relying on that to start with."

He added that there were many different antibody tests and not all of them were the same.

"The problem is they could be a false negative test, or they could be a false positive test," said Richard.

Dr. Richard added that he couldn't step into the realm of individual doctors trying to make decisions for their patients. Adding that individual providers may choose to do an antibody test for an individual because of their circumstance.

"But there's no guidelines set by the CDC or the FDA on how to test those individuals. So, you're sort of out in open water without clear guidance on how to handle the results."

His advice in Tapp’s situation was for Tapp's provider to talk to Johnson and Johnson directly and or a virologist or immunologist about whether the antibody test they ordered was specific enough for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

Dr. Richard added that the best way to protect yourself from the virus continued to be vaccination.

"Really the message I want to get across is the benefits of vaccination so outweigh the risk of vaccination," said Dr. Richard. "All the vaccines provide excellent coverage against hospitalization and death. And that is our principle goal here is to prevent people from being extremely ill, hospitalized, and dying. So, we can't emphasize enough the importance of getting vaccinated."

Data from the Virginia Department of Health showed just how effective vaccines were, with just .0019% of fully vaccinated Virginians hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 99.4% of COVID cases in Virginia were in people not vaccinated or not fully vaccinated.