Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the first serology (antibody) point-of-care (POC) test for COVID-19. The Assure COVID-19 IgG/IgM Rapid Test Device was first authorized for emergency use by certain labs in July 2020 to help identify individuals with antibodies to SARS-CoV-2, indicating recent or prior COVID-19 infection. Today, that EUA is being reissued to authorize the test for POC use using fingerstick blood samples. This authorization means that fingerstick blood samples can now be tested in POC settings like doctor’s offices, hospitals, urgent care centers and emergency rooms rather than having to be sent to a central lab for testing.
“Authorizing point-of-care serology tests will enable more timely and convenient results for individuals who want to understand if they have previously been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen M. Hahn, M.D. “Until today, serology test samples were generally only able to be evaluated in a central lab, which can be time consuming and use additional resources to transport samples and run the test. As more and more point-of-care serology tests are authorized, they will help conserve those resources and may help reduce processing time for other types of COVID-19 tests, as less time is spent on serology tests.”
Nearly 50 serology tests have been granted an EUA since the start of the pandemic. The Assure test is a lateral flow assay and is authorized for use with venous whole blood, serum, plasma and fingerstick whole blood. This serology POC test, unlike POC COVID-19 diagnostic tests, uses a blood sample from the fingertip to run the test.
The FDA wants to remind patients that it is unknown how long antibodies persist following infection and if the presence of antibodies confers protective immunity, so they should not interpret results from a serology test as telling them they are immune, or have any level of immunity, from the virus. Due to these unknowns, the FDA cautions patients against using the results from these tests, or any serology test, as an indication that they can stop taking steps to protect themselves and others, such as stopping social distancing, discontinuing wearing masks or returning to work.
The FDA also wants to remind the public that serology tests should not be used to diagnose an active infection, as they only detect antibodies the immune system develops in response to the virus – not the virus itself. It is also important to remember that in a population with low prevalence, even high-performing antibody tests may produce as many or more false results as true results because the likelihood of finding someone who has been infected is very small. Thus, it is necessary to consider that the results from two serology tests may be needed to generate reliable results.
The Assure COVID-19 IgG/IgM Rapid Test Device is currently the only FDA authorized COVID-19 POC serology test and is available by prescription only. The FDA continues to work with test developers to expand access to COVID-19 testing.
The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.
Rod is a blogger, writer, filmmaker, photographer, daydreamer who likes to cook. Rod produces and directs the web series, CUPIC: Diary of an Investigator. He is also the editor, producer and administrator of TNC Network.