Be confident of your immune response with antibody testing

The IgG antibody test is a simple serology test that can be done at a certified laboratory near your home.

By Prof. Dr. Agam Vora,

The past couple of years have been challenging with spikes and dips related to the COVID-19 infections in India. We went through quite a severe second wave, and Niti Aayog has predicted the third wave around the end of this year. The second wave was primarily driven by the Delta variant, and we need to brace ourselves for emerging variants by getting vaccinated. The Delta/ Delta-Plus variant has proven to be more fatal due to increased transmissibility, reduction in antibody response and a stronger binding to the receptors of the lung cells. A zero survey by PGIMER, Chandigarh, amongst 2700 children showed that 71% of them had developed antibodies against the COVID-19 virus. This indicated that children, too, are affected by the novel virus (1).

Other studies have shown that vaccines have around 48% effectiveness after the first dose and 93.7% effectiveness after the second dose (2). Thus, taking both shots of the vaccine is essential to develop a strong immune response against the COVID-19 virus. Research shows that the Delta and Delta plus variants are less sensitive to neutralising antibodies. One would require five to eight times more antibodies to elicit the same kind of immune response than the original virus during the first wave to block these variants (3).

An antibody is a protein produced by the immune system to identify and fight foreign bacteria and viruses that enter the body. Vaccines work with the body’s natural defences to build protection and reduce risks of contracting a disease by producing antibodies. Vaccines produce an immune response in the body, without causing illness. Two of the main antibodies produced by the body are IgM and IgG. IgM antibodies are developed early during the infection and may not be detectable after a few weeks of an infection. IgG antibodies are developed later and last longer. They give a more accurate information of a past infection.

Knowing our immune response to the vaccines can help us be confident of our protection against newer variants. Different people may mount a different level of response to vaccines. The antibodies developed by one will be different from the other and would depend on factors such as underlying medical conditions and age.

The IgG antibody test is a simple serology test that can be done at a certified laboratory near your home. After 14 days of the second shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, one can gauge their immunity levels with the help of a quantitative IgG antibody test. One can also conduct these tests if they feel they have been infected with the virus in the past.

The battle against the third wave can be won by expanding the vaccination reach. Getting infected with COVID-19 may create immunity against the virus, but long-lasting immunity post an infection has not been found yet. While vaccines undoubtedly help increase antibody levels, it is still unclear how long that increase lasts. Even as initial antibodies decline after a COVID-19 infection or the vaccine, our memory cells store information about the earlier, original attack/vaccine, and these cells react to any new threat by generating new antibodies. Some people have more and others who may be immunocompromised, have a lesser response from these memory cells. As already mentioned, no two people will have the same level of immunity or respond to the vaccines in equal measure. People should not worry or panic even if antibodies have declined or are lesser over a period of time. In these circumstances, it would be good to visit your doctor and see if there are any additional precautionary measures you could adopt.

Antibody tests are also useful for patients having long-term and lingering symptoms, even months after their exposure to the virus, so that necessary treatment approaches can be followed for better outcomes.

Eventually, what is most important is to continue taking necessary precautions and following all guidelines and recommendations by authorities to ensure we all play a role in containing the virus, dealing with it and getting back to doing the things that matter to us. The war against COVID-19 will be won with social distancing, personal hygiene, wearing masks, cough etiquette, testing and vaccinations. Let’s join hands together to win this battle.

(The author is Chest Physician, Vora Clinic Mumbai. The above article is for informational purposes only. Please consult medical professional/expert before undertaking any therapy, medication, treatment or test. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. )

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