Health Express offering COVID-19 antibody testing

Health Express, part of South Shore Health, has announced the launch of COVID-19 antibody testing.

The lab-based serology blood test, provided by Abbott Labs, tests for the detection of the antibody IgG to identify if a person has had the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Though their importance is a matter of opinion, antibody tests have become a priority as the government tries to determine how many people may be immune to the disease before social restrictions can be lifted.

Are we ready to test? 

“It’s a debatable point,” says Chris Whelan, President & CEO of Health Express. “But, the public is clamoring for testing.”

Health Express tested 60 people-per-hour over the weekend of April 25 - 26, the first weekend it opened testing at five of its sites, including 340 on that Sunday. The urgent care centers are currently offering antibody testing for those who’ve experienced symptoms of COVID-19, but were not tested for the virus while sick.

The blood tests are currently available at Health Express urgent care locations in: Abington, Pembroke, Plymouth, Quincy, and Weymouth for anyone who has been symptom-free for at least 14 days prior to testing. Patients who still have a mild cough, runny nose, or are otherwise still recovering must wait until they are completely recovered to test. Patients must be at least 10 years old to be screened.

Supplies are limited. No appointment is necessary. Patients may drive up and call for curbside triage and are welcome to call their nearest location to confirm tests are available prior to visiting. .

Antibody testing is an important next step in the COVID-19 pandemic to determine how long antibodies stay in the body and if they provide immunity. This knowledge could also help support the development of treatments and vaccines, according to an Abbott Laboratories news release.

Historically, anti-body tests are used on diseases we know more about, such as Hepatitis B or the Chicken Pox. Antibodies are the body’s way of remembering how it responded to an infection so it can attack again if exposed to the same pathogen. The difference with COVID-19 is that we are still learning about the virus.

“There is a chance that a positive test is a false positive, and you’ve never been exposed to SARS CoV-2 in the past but have been exposed to other common Coronaviruses which can rarely cross react with the antibody test and show a positive result,” says Dr. Todd Ellerin, head of Infectious Diseases at South Shore Health.

“A negative result suggests you have not been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. This means you are susceptible to acquiring the virus in the future,” Ellerin said.

“A positive or negative study should not, however, change infection control recommendations: hand washing, wearing masks in public, social distancing and guidance on staying at home.

Abbott Labs has significantly scaled up its manufacturing for antibody testing and predicted it would ship a total of 4 million tests in total by the end of the April. They will ramp production up to 20 million tests in the U.S. in June, according to the medical device and healthcare company.

Health Express hopes to receive regular shipments of the antibody test through Massachusetts-based supplier, Quest Labs. Updates on testing availability at Health Express locations on the South Shore will be posted on the Health Express Facebook page.