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Importance of antibody testing for live events
Peace of mind for venues
A proposed user model
Abingdon Health has been providing examples of how SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) antibody tests can help support unlocking parts of economies. We’ve covered areas including aviation and travel, workplace testing, and how antibody tests can allow people to know their COVID-19 antibody status.
In this blog we look at how COVID-19 antibody testing could benefit live events and entertainment, one of the sectors hit hardest by the pandemic and which continues to face uncertainty. Global revenues in the live music industry alone dropped from USD 28.97bn in 2019 to USD 10.42bn in 2020.1
Irrespective of whether social restrictions are in place or whether the onus for safety passes to individuals or businesses, COVID-19 anxieties and risks will not disappear. Therefore, COVID-19 testing strategies need to reassure organisations and individuals that they are safe to go about their business.
This article provides a practical example of a tool not widely used currently that can play a big part in reducing health risks for event attendees and staff members and offer business continuity for venues. All with the aim of helping to avoid venue closures, mass isolation and tighter restrictions. This can apply for countries that remain under restrictions, or for those that have cautiously loosened them.
The importance of COVID-19 antibody testing for live events
COVID-19 vaccines are universally seen as the critical path out of the pandemic. However, receiving the vaccination is just one part of the solution. We need to know if those individuals have developed the protective antibodies that the vaccine seeks to induce and, as time progresses, whether those antibodies are still present. In addition, it seems increasingly likely that proof of past infection could be an acceptable way to gain entry as venues and businesses seek to sustain the reopening.
Most importantly, antibody tests can help determine a population’s immunity status based on data and help identify those most vulnerable. This is a powerful tool that gives people the ability to know their antibody status and make informed decisions on their own protective measures, and also provides live events managers with a tool to help protect their staff in line with their neutralising antibody presence.
In our blog series, we have made the case for testing IgG neutralising antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. These antibodies play an important role in preventing the virus from entering human cells and are therefore a key indicator for determining a desired immune response. Data is building on the longevity of antibodies, but considering that IgG neutralising antibodies have been found to be detectable up to 10 months2 after an infection, testing for them can help to monitor an ongoing immune response.
Vaccines are not 100% effective, so confirming the presence of IgG antibodies in individuals is important. There are variations in approaches across the world, but some venues accept proof of vaccination or a negative antigen test for entry. While these pieces of evidence are being taken as a ‘right of entry’ for events, they do not tell us the whole story, as they cannot inform us who out of the vaccinated and unvaccinated attendees has produced the right immune response to protect them from the virus. Not all vaccinated attendees will have produced a robust immune response, and not all unvaccinated attendees who have tested negative are necessarily defended against infection.
Current approaches leave a gap in our knowledge which widespread antibody testing could fill.
In addition, 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 show no symptoms.3 Are many people taking antigen tests unnecessarily, as their body may already be responding immunologically?
Unfortunately, stories are also emerging on fraudulent vaccination certificates.4 This could be disruptive for businesses should an outbreak occur because of a fake vaccine passport holder. Antibody testing could help to prevent fraudulent proof of vaccination, as individuals would have to demonstrate the presence of neutralising antibodies in support of their showing of a certificate. With rapid antibody tests giving results in 20 minutes that remain valid for months as opposed to hours, this could be well ahead of the event: which is convenient for people and businesses.
Peace of mind
In the UK, there are no restrictions on how many people can attend events. However, venues are being urged to use Covid passes despite otherwise facing fewer social restrictions than other countries.5
This shows that even in countries prepared to lift restrictions, there remains a great degree of caution. The impact of COVID-19 will linger, and a one size fits all approach to combating COVID-19 will not prevail. Read more about how antibody testing is vital in supporting the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.
On the 19th of July 2021, the UK announced that from the end of September 2021, only vaccine passport holders- those who have had two vaccinations- can enter nightclubs. With a significant proportion of their clients currently not fully vaccinated (35% of 18- to 30-year-olds6), this could significantly impact the industry. This furthers the case for the use of antibody tests, which could give businesses a greater degree of autonomy over their approaches to COVID-19 safety.
For countries who remain under restrictions, antibody tests can fill the knowledge-gap in antigen test and vaccine only strategies. Helping to build a more rounded picture of a population’s immunity to help inform decisions for easing restrictions.
A proposed user model
A positive antibody test, showing the presence of neutralising antibodies, can generate antibody status certificate demonstrating proof of past infection and/or a successful vaccination, which can be presented in support of the individual’s status. These antibody tests can be administered by professionals in pharmacies, by occupational health workers in workplaces or in other settings by trained lay people.
With a monthly testing schedule, a person’s neutralising antibody status can be checked on a far less frequent testing schedule ultimately providing a more cost-effective solution.
Lateral flow antibody tests, such as AbC-19TM, consist of a simple blood finger prick test and take only 20 minutes to provide a result. No central laboratory instruments are needed, and the result can be recorded on a smartphone app, and a QR code issued if required that can be used for a time limited period (e.g. 3-months) for multiple purposes. It is simple, accurate, cost-effective and convenient.
In the case that there were no neutralising antibodies present – the person would still need to perform antigen and/or PCR testing.
Several factors need to be considered COVID-19 testing programme: safety, the ease of accurate mass testing, a reduction in people’s anxiety, and costs. Neutralising antibody tests can provide a solution to these issues. We have made significant strides in dealing with COVID-19. We are not going to eradicate COVID-19 any time soon, but we can certainly manage its on-going financial and psychological impact by using all the tools available to us.