By Chris Wolski
During a Sept. 18 televised interview on 60 Minutes, President Joe Biden declared the “pandemic is over.” I’m sure there were no end of sighs of relief and a not a few utterances of “I told you so” depending on which side of the political spectrum you’re on when he made that. pronouncement. But is it really, truly “over”?
I decided to ask an expert, Andy Lane, PhD, who has written about COVID for CLP, if he thought the pandemic is over.
“I’m sure you can make a good argument that COVID is now in a transition phase. Given the impact of variants it seems to me that this will be an extended transition phase, characterized by waves of increased infection. The key thing here is that transition doesn’t mean ‘it’s all over.’ Cases are still relatively high, and there are still some hospitalizations and deaths—let alone Long Covid,” he replied via e-mail from his home in the UK. “I believe at this stage we need to understand our own personal risk, and adjust our behavior to suit.”
Lane, who recently retired from the Native Antigen Company, isn’t sitting on the sidelines. He is working to be part of the solution. He’s doing consulting work for a UK company, Attomarker, which is developing a COVID antibody test to help individuals determine their level of protection and help make decisions about further vaccinations. The test, which relies on a finger prick blood sample, is expected to be available in Europe soon, but currently not set for release in the U.S.
While working on this column, I came across similar announcements that the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU)1, and researchers in the U.S2. are all working on similar antibody tests. Lane added in his e-mail that knowing T-cell immunity along with antibody testing would give a pretty good picture about patients’ immunity status. To that end, Cardiff-based Immunoserv has developed such a test, which is available for purchase3 in the UK.
Lane argues that antibody testing has an important role in managing SARS-CoV-2 going forward.
“At the moment more data is needed, but if we can properly understand what antibody levels are protective, we can measure them and use that information to guide our choices about timing of vaccinations and other protective measures,” he wrote to me. “These tests will also help us to understand which vaccines are most effective, especially important as a second generation of vaccines becomes available.”
While I agree that the worst of the pandemic is over and I don’t worry much about catching COVID, I don’t think it’s “over” in the sense that SARS-CoV-2 is gone from our lives. Quite the contrary, I’m resolved to the fact that COVID and flu booster shots are now an annual thing. And because of their shared symptoms, I also posit that testing—likely multiplex testing—will also be a regular part of our lives when we feel sick, and antibody and T-cell testing will be added to the menu when we’re planning on taking big trips or attending weddings, graduations, or other life events.
The pandemic might be over, but SARS-CoV-2 is here to stay, and I’m grateful that our testing is evolving to arm us with the knowledge we need to make the best decisions for our health.
Chris Wolski is chief editor of CLP.
- “SMART and NTU Singapore develop a quick test kit to determine a person’s immunity against COVID-19 and its variants.” News Release. Nanyang Technical University. Sept 21, 2022. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/965576
- “Scientists are racing to develop home tests that measure protection against Covid-19.” Chen, Edward. Stat. Aug. 23, 2022. https://www.statnews.com/2022/08/23/covid19-coronavirus-home-antibody-tests/?campaign_id=154&emc=edit_cb_20220824&instance_id=70156&nl=virus-briefing®i_id=170676906&segment_id=102273&te=1&user_id=c7c95fdc5c8d81e05e92fe07a530a699
- “Immuno-T COVID T Cell Test Now Available to Buy.” News Release. Immunoserv. Sept. 16, 2022. https://immunoserv.com/news/immuno-t-covid-t-cell-test-now-available-to-buy/