QUB research suggests extensive antibody testing could lower contagion of COVID-19

  • A new research paper from Queen’s University Belfast suggests that extensive antibody testing could lower social activity and thus contagion of COVID-19.

    Throughout the pandemic, most individuals act without knowing their health state, which naturally affects their willingness to social distance.

    The research paper - carried out by Dr Luis Guimaraes, Lecturer in Economics from Queen’s Management School - suggests that this uncertainty can be quite adverse, by increasing contagion and raising COVID-19 related deaths.

    However part of the uncertainty can be reduced by antibody testing. By revealing that susceptible and asymptomatic individuals are not immune, antibody testing reduces their social activity lowering the scale of the pandemic.

    In his research, Dr Guimaraes built an economic model of epidemics extending the standard SIR epidemiological model, widely used to guide policy during the pandemic, to include individuals’ choice of social distancing.

    In the model, individuals react to the information about infections. When infections rise, they realise the increased risk of infection and lower their social contacts, which reduces the effective reproduction number, Rt.

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    However if susceptible individuals are unsure of their health state and erroneously believe to be immune, they constrain their social activity by less than otherwise.

    In this regard, by informing individuals, antibody tests reduce average social activity and permanently lower COVID-19 related deaths.

    When the model is calibrated to capture the costs of social-distancing and of infection as well as the basic reproduction number, R0, Dr Guimaraes found that antibody testing could prevent approximately 12 per cent of COVID-19 related deaths within 12 months.

    "This research suggests that there can be sizeable gains in terms of lives saved from conducting largescale antibody testing," said Dr Guimaraes. "The benefits of these tests are particularly large for those that cannot work from home in areas in which many are estimated to have been infected like London."

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    Dr Guimaraes added: "There is also another, not as evident, reason to support largescale antibody testing. By revealing that susceptible individuals are not immune, antibody testing increases their social-distancing, lowering the scale of the pandemic."

    Largescale antibody testing would help to identify immune individuals, allowing them to enjoy the benefits of social activity. But, critical for contagion, negative antibody testing would identify those that are not immune, compelling susceptible or vulnerable individuals to be more cautious and, thus, increase social distancing.

    Source: press release

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