Results coming soon from NC legislature-funded antibody study

Photo courtesy of Wake Forest Baptist Health

RALEIGH — After requesting antibody testing of a representative sample of North Carolina’s population for many weeks, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) was able to utilize $100,000 from a General Assembly discretionary account to fund a Wake Forest Baptist Health study with this purpose. Berger’s deputy chief of staff, Pat Ryan, told NSJ in an April 24 interview that initial results from the study will be available to the public in the next “week or two.”

The study, now underway, relies on data gathered from 1,000 at-home antibody kits which are being mailed to residents specifically selected to be part of the sample.

“This groundbreaking Wake Forest Baptist Health study, led by Dr. John Sanders, will fill a critical data gap that’s been missing for many weeks, and will help us learn if the true situation is better or worse than the models project,” Berger said in a statement. “Nobody knows the true hospitalization and fatality rates for this virus, even as the government has ordered a full-scale economic shutdown.”

Sanders and Dr. David Herrington of Wake Forest Baptist Health will be working with Atrium Health, Scanwell Health, Oracle, Javara and others to produce and analyze the data. Berger’s press release said the money comes from a fund for “legislative operations and business,” and the data will be used to “help legislators make decisions in the coming weeks.”

“Wake Forest Baptist Health and Atrium Health are leading the way in pioneering a representative sample antibody study,” Sanders said. “Coupled with state-of-the-art syndromic surveillance and in collaboration with leading health care providers and companies, our work will help fill a data gap that has existed since the start of the pandemic. I’m grateful to the North Carolina legislature for providing us with up-front funding so we can begin this critical project.”

Berger’s push for testing of this kind received some backlash, though, with state Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg), the freshman minority leader, calling it a “ridiculous, unhelpful, unworkable idea.”

Participants for the program were identified through WFBH’s patient database and are meant to be an accurate representation of the state’s makeup. The participants will receive a new at-home antibody test — produced by Scanwell Health — every month for a year. The kits direct the participants to prick their finger, and then the blood is tested for COVID-19 antibodies.

Despite the antibody study being projected to last a year, Ryan told NSJ, “We expect their data to be helpful and useful for policymaking decisions much sooner than the full year.”

Ryan said the data will all be made available “as results come in” on a public-facing dashboard. The dashboard, he said, isn’t “fully ready yet, but we expect it to come soon.”

Beyond the antibody testing portion of the study, Ryan said the “syndromic surveillance” portion is also going to provide important data. This will rely on participating health providers inputting data (not including patients’ identities) into the system so COVID-19 hot spots can be identified.

“If there’s a bunch of people, more than usual, who present at an ER in Guilford County with fever and coughs, then that data will be viewable and accessible, and we’ll know about it as it’s happening,” Ryan said.

Nationally, diagnostic information company Quest Diagnostics launched a COVID-19 antibody test for purchase online without visiting a doctor’s office.

On April 21, Quest announced the launch of its COVID-19 antibody test service for health care providers to order on behalf of patients. The new service broadens access to COVID-19 antibody testing in the United States.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, although it is not known whether the development of antibodies provides protection from reinfection or how long such protection lasts, COVID-19 antibody testing may indicate whether the person exposed to the virus developed some immunity to the virus. Antibody testing uses blood serum specimens and is sometimes referred to as serology testing.

“With the introduction of this test and service, Quest is making it easy for people to access quality testing for antibodies to the virus which causes COVID-19, with access to physician interpretation and steering into needed care,” said Dr. Jay Wohlgemuth, senior vice president and chief medical officer for Quest Diagnostics. “While the science on COVID-19 is evolving, testing for antibodies may identify people who have likely been exposed to COVID-19 and might have mounted an immune response to the virus.  Our goal is to empower individuals and their physicians to make informed decisions about their risk of infection and of spreading the virus.”

Quest is working in collaboration with PWNHealth, an independent national network of physicians providing clinical oversight for QuestDirect services, including the delivery of results and post-test telehealth support to patients.