Exploring the possibility of patient immunity, HRH to begin testing for COVID-19 antibodies

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The Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus is expanding their operations to include testing for COVID-19 antibodies on Monday to better determine who has been impacted by the virus and explore the possibilities of patient immunity.

Dr. Nizar Kifaieh. Screenshot via Zoom.

By Marc Bussanich/Hudson County View

During their weekly virtual press conference via Zoom, the hospital announced that they will offer immunoglobulin G (IgG) testing and it expects to offer immunoglobulin M (IgM) testing by next week – with the capacity to do 400 tests per day.

According Dr. Nizar Kifaieh, the hospital’s CEO, early after infection (usually after the first week), a class of antibodies known as IgM develops, “although these are not typically long-lasting. Later, after the first two to four weeks following infection, IgG, a more durable antibody, is produced.”

While the hope is that these types of tests can better inform officials on when to reopen communities and try to restart their economies, the tests still provide no guarantees about virus immunity.

The Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s website says that “unfortunately, it is not yet clear whether the presence of antibodies against COVID-19 implies that a person is protected from reinfection by this virus – that is, immunity.”

And even the World Health Organization currently recommends that such tests only be utilized for research purposes, not clinical decision-making.

Nonetheless, Kifaieh said he believes that the tests will help the hospital to determine the duration of immunity.

“The question we all think about … for people that tested positive a while back and are asymptomatic right now, have they developed immunity, yes or no?,” Kifaieh questioned.

“And that’s really important because that is going to teach us a lot about what is going to happen next. There’s talk of a second wave in the winter, so if these people develop immunity the next question is how long will that immunity last … do we have to rush to vaccinate everyone?”

Additionally, officials from the Hudson County government want to see the new immunity tests ramped up, and there’s a possibility that the tests are soon adopted statewide, according to Hudson County Deputy Administrator David Drumeler.

“We think that expanding testing, both antibiotic and diagnostic, is what we need to do on a countywide level and we’re working on trying to make it happen … and what’s going to give us the best bang for the amount of tests we can perform from a public health standpoint,” said Drumeler.

During the question and answer portion of the virtual media call, Kifaieh noted the value of the new testing.

“This makes our testing center really valuable … the fact that we have a bank of data here that we can access and potentially call back a lot of people who tested positive previously to test them for immunity [is] really valuable information for the Centers for Disease Control to issue guidelines regarding immunity and recommendations for reopening.”

The hospital will be accepting walks-ins with or without a physician’s prescription between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

For those without a physician’s prescription and/or insurance, the cost for the test will be $95.

The procedure involves a phlebotomist drawing blood, and the results will be faxed to the ordering physician, or faxed, mailed or emailed to the patient directly without a script within one to two days.