UK wide antibody survey testing initiative launched. Image of a finger prick test.

UK wide antibody surveillance programme launched

August 23, 2021

Thousands of adults a day will be given free access to antibody tests through a new national surveillance programme launched by the UK Health Security Agency next week, to help improve our understanding of immunity against COVID-19 from vaccination and infection.

For the first time, the programme will offer antibody testing to adults in the UK who test positive for COVID-19. From Tuesday, anyone aged over 18 will be able to opt in to take part when booking a PCR test through NHS Test and Trace. Up to 8,000 people who opt in and then receive a positive PCR result will be sent two finger prick antibody tests to complete at home and send back to a lab for analysis.This is the first time antibody tests have been made available to the general public. Until now, antibody testing has only been available to specific cohorts for clinical or research purposes, and to some people across the devolved administrations working in professions such as in education, social care or the NHS.

The UK Health Security Agency will work alongside NHS Test and Trace testing services in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to monitor levels of antibodies in positive cases across the UK. The data collected will help estimate the proportion of those who got COVID-19 despite developing antibodies as a result of having a vaccine or previously catching coronavirus.

Antibodies are part of the body’s immune response to help fight off infection and are generated either after being infected or following vaccination. Antibody testing looks for evidence of this immune response, whereas PCR and antigen testing tells someone if they have the virus at the time of test.

The initiative could also provide insight into any groups of people who do not develop an immune response. The UK Health Security Agency will use the data to inform the ongoing approach to COVID-19 and provide further insight into the effectiveness of the vaccines against different variants.

Dr Susan Hopkins, Public Health England’s COVID-19 Strategic Response Director said:

“Our testing armoury is stronger than ever now we are rolling out antibody testing to thousands of people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland alongside the vast testing capacity we have built including our NHS Test and Trace system.

Antibody testing surveillance shows how health teams across the UK are dedicated to working together to find innovative ways to understand the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and target future treatments for COVID-19.”

It remains vital people continue to get a PCR swab test if they have symptoms and self-isolate when asked by NHS Test and Trace. Individuals should not change their behaviour based on an antibody result.

Getting a PCR test

If you have any of these 3 coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, even if mild, use this service to get a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test as soon as possible:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • you’ve lost your sense of smell or taste or it’s changed

You can order a PCR test kit to be sent to your home or book an appointment at a walk-in or drive-through test site.

If you have symptoms, self-isolate straight away until you get your results. Do not leave home, except to post a test kit or for a PCR test appointment. 

Get your free PCR test at: https://www.gov.uk/get-coronavirus-test

If you have no symptoms take a lateral flow test you can order rapid lateral flow tests to be sent to your home.