UPDATE OCTOBER/2020 British Columbia residents can no longer access this private testing service because, as I recently wrote here, medical regulators in B.C. have ordered the company to stop offering the service. It is still available in Alberta and Ontario.
BY PAMELA FAYERMAN
If you live in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, or Edmonton, a private mobile lab company is offering to draw your blood to have it tested for antibodies to COVID-19.
The service is designed to satisfy curiosity about whether individuals have had a past COVID-19 infection but weren’t tested because they were asymptomatic or not tested at the time for some other reason. Having serology testing – or antibody testing – can offer some clarity or peace of mind about whether someone is producing an immune response to COVID-19 that might shelter them from re-infection. But as experts have pointed out, how long antibodies remain is still a big question.
Ichor (pronounced eye-core) Blood Services is an Alberta company and it is charging $75 for the home or office visit plus $120 for the antibody test. The COVID-19 test is also available at $190. A requisition from a physician is required for the tests.
Mike Kuzmickas is the president of Ichor. This is what he said in my chat with him:
“What I realized early is that if we will already be in people’s homes drawing blood, there are other services and private tests we can offer.”
Once drawn the blood is sent to a laboratory in Virginia. The mobile lab techs who draw blood are certified and since blood drawing is an invasive procedure, they also have training in first aid and transportation of dangerous goods.
Kuzmickas said: “We put together a partnership with StageZero Life Sciences, which is an Ontario company, with a high complexity lab in Richmond, Virginia. StageZero is an early cancer detection company…we facilitate blood collection for cancer detection tests by working with StageZero, the patient, and the patient’s physician.
“When COVID hit, StageZero was uniquely positioned to pivot into testing, both PCR and Antibody. Through our partnership with StageZero, Ichor is also able to offer these private tests to Canadians who are willing to pay for them. Since this is not our core business, we add a very small markup to the cost of these tests for our effort but are not looking to profit off them. Our goal is to simply offer private tests to people while building our core brand, and the trust that people have in it.”
“The PCR test that StageZero is using is the Thermo Fisher TaqPath test, and for antibody testing they run the BTNX Rapid Response test first, followed by the Beckman Coulter Access test to confirm a positive on an IgG from the BTNX test. The Beckman Coulter test has a sensitivity of 100%, and a specificity of 99.8%, one of the best tests out there. We ship samples once a week … results get back to the patient via a secure portal within 72 hours.”
Antibody (or immunity) testing is controversial because there isn’t yet enough quality evidence to show how valuable it is and some tests are more accurate than others. Rapid (point of care tests) are especially controversial. Ichor is not using a rapid test; it is sending blood to a U.S. lab.
Experts can’t say for sure how long antibodies last after COVID-19 infections and as I reported in my last article, studies are showing that immunity to re-infection may not last long enough to provide true immunity from re-infection. I asked Kuzmickas if customers will receive their results with caveats. He said this in response:
“We have been careful not to use the term immunity nor to make any clear statements around the effectiveness or validity of antibodies. We encourage people to do their own research, just like they would for any other private blood test. If people believe that a vaccine is the answer, which is meant to mimic the virus so the body produces antibodies, then testing positive for antibodies can be considered similar to vaccine response. We are simply giving people the option to get tested in the absence of any government testing plan for the general population.”
Not giving customers any qualifying information is not responsible, in my opinion. Companies that offer health care services – especially during a pandemic – should not rely on customers to do their own Dr. Google research.
If you are considering antibody testing, go here to read about one individual’s experience.
I asked one of B.C.’s top COVID-19 experts – Dr. Mel Krajden – to comment on the private service. Krajden and most other public health experts believe antibody testing isn’t yet ready for prime time and should only be deployed in research protocols or by government-funded scientific bodies. His remarks may help you decide whether this is how you wish to spend $200:
“Offering serology to the general public without the proof that the serology is both accurate and will impact a patient’s outcome is not consistent with good medical care,” said Krajden who is the medical director at the BC Centre for Disease Control public health laboratory.
“The current guidance documents being developed by the Canadian Public Health Laboratory Network, the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, the Canadian Society of Clinical Chemistry and the Federal COVID Serology Task Force all agree that given current knowledge, serological tests have not yet been shown to correlate with sero-protection (an antibody response capable of preventing infections, after, for example, a vaccination or a previous infection).
“Therefore, a positive serological test result should not be used to change the need for physical distancing, personal protective equipment and to modify workplace activities.”