U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, shared a transcript of his questions about coronavirus antibody testing to Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The exchange came during a Thursday meeting of the House Appropriations Committee’s Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee to discuss the Trump Administration’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Redfield has been a public health leader actively engaged in clinical research and clinical care of chronic human viral infections and infectious diseases, specifically HIV, for more than 30 years. He has served as the director of the CDC since 2018.
Here is the transcipt of the exchange:
Rep. Graves: “I wanted to change a little bit to antibodies and antibody testing. If you could maybe share a little bit with us about FDA approvals for testing kits, and if you could give us some feedback and insight into that and what to expect there.”
Director Redfield: “There are a series of antibody tests…the real issue is ‘what does antibody mean’? Right now, we don’t really know exactly what antibody means. If you have a valid antibody, it means that you’ve been infected at one point in time with the virus, we don’t know how long that antibody will last. But we don’t know the critical question, which is when does an antibody test mean you’re immune to the virus? And that’s what we’re still trying to find.”
Rep. Graves: “As we’re talking about testing and the COVID-19 testing and the testing sites, is there any value to at the same time testing for antibodies? Is there value in testing for both simultaneously, and then on top of that do you believe that antibody testing is something that should be paid for by the government, as COVID-19 testing has been?”
Director Redfield: “The challenge that I have there is trying to understand the clinical utility of what antibody testing is. CMS will pay for it if it’s for a specific clinical indication…my understanding is that they currently pay for it with the clinical indication being that you’ve been infected by this virus. The one area it has a major clinical relevance is in children. You’ve seen about this hyperinflammatory syndrome that we’re seeing in children, luckily it’s very rare, but it really occurs post a COVID infection…so we do use antibody testing in trying to define the case definition in children that have this new rare inflammatory system.”
Rep. Graves: “So just to sum up on the antibody testing, we really don’t know what it means right now?”
Director Redfield: “That’s correct and it is one of the critical things I think we’re going to learn between now and January.”