New COVID-19 antibody studies out of USC and Stanford hint that the coronavirus may have been more widespread than originally thought, which would significantly reduce the disease’s mortality rate. Meanwhile, a recent antibody testing may reveal that the virus was in Hawaii as early as late February.
The Stanford and USC study methods and antibody tests themselves are facing heavy criticism from some scientists.
“These studies have not been peer reviewed,” Hawaii Department of Health Laboratory Director Dr. Edward Desmond said.
“In ordinary times when people do a scientific study, they send it to a journal. The journal sends it to a set of reviewers, the reviewers poke holes in it and try to see if there’s any problem with the methods or the sampling. They get back to the authors and the authors respond, and they revise the manuscript. The studies from Stanford and USC didn’t go through that process, so it’s more than usually possible that there could have been some flaws in the study design.”
The Stanford study was criticized for having a poor population sampling to draw conclusions from. Their 3,330 subjects were targeted by a Facebook advertisement.
“For the Stanford study, they recruited their patients through Facebook so the people who came and got tested were motivated to come and get tested. It wasn’t a random sample it was people who went to a site based on an ad they found on Facebook. So it may have drawn people who had symptoms previously and couldn’t get a test so they were curious so it may not be representative of the whole population. It could have led to an oversampling of people who were sick and had antibodies so it might not be truly representative of the prevalence who have antibodies in the population,” Dr. Desmond said.
The antibody testing kits used by both studies were also found to possibly produce false positives.
“The tests that was used in both studies was from Hangzhou Biotech and this has not yet been reviewed by the U.S. FDA. There is at the moment a process in place for reviewing some of the antibody tests to see if they’re sensitive and specific and accurate. Hopefully in a short period of time the study which is being done by the CDC and national cancer institute will report that they’ve got a bank of serum samples from people with valid history of having COVID-19 or not having it. So they can use these as a standard comparison to evaluate the quality of these commercial antibody tests. This is what I think is pretty safe to say has not gone through this process,” Dr. Desmond said.
Antibody tests were used in Hawaii last weekend at the Doctors of Waikiki’s drive-thru first-responder testing. The private practice clinic says their antibody test kits are very accurate.
“I have to tell you the blood test is almost right on point with the PCR test. That’s from all of the data points that we’ve gathered. It’s awesome,” Dr. Alan Wu said.
The results from the drive-thru testing point to COVID-19 being in Hawaii before the state’s first positive test, which was March 6th.
“We tested over 500 first responders and identified about 1% had the antibody and all of them had consistent history of having this really bad upper respiratory infection, flu-like symptoms went through the whole entire household. Seems like the time frame was always late February and early March,” Dr. Wu said.
It is still not known if those with antibodies from COVID-19 are immune to contracting the disease again, and if so for how long.
Doctors of Waikiki is offering antibody testing for essential workers. You can sign up at https://www.doctorsofwaikiki.com/covid19