Tuesday, 16 June 2020
Department of Health
The ECDC has advised that immunoassays detecting specific antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) will play an important role in the future for epidemiological surveillance, evaluation of immunity and the outcome of future vaccination studies. However, the reliability of serological tests remains a major issue as does the interpretation of what immunity means and how long it might last. These remain active research questions.
The ECDC have reported that over 60 rapid SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests have been CE marked to date, and many more continue to be placed on the market. Prior to the introduction of new serological assays [antibody tests] clinical validation studies are required to confirm that test performance can be replicated in the context in which the test is intended to be used.
Following a request from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) the HSE and Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) are proceeding with plans to undertake a national population sero-prevalence study. This work is being carried out jointly by HPSC and NVRL, in collaboration with the Central Statistics Office and Department of Health.
This first use of antibody testing, as has occurred in other countries, will be to estimate the prevalence of immunity in the general population by conducting a population based sero-prevalence survey to measure the prevalence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 virus in a representative sample of the Irish population in two geographically defined areas. Ethics approval for the study was granted by the National Research Ethics Committee for COVID-19 on 4 June. All persons aged 12-69 years living in Ireland can be randomly selected to participate. Those randomly selected, who consent to participate, will complete a questionnaire and have a blood sample taken.
Samples will be analysed at the National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) for the detection of antibodies to the virus. For those who do not speak English, arrangements will be in place to enable them to participate via translated material and interpreters. Those who need assistance to support decision making will be provided with these supports, on request. The study will commence on 15 June, with results being available toward the end of August.