Since 23 February 2022, residents of the district of Böblingen can receive one of 4000 free COVID-19 antibody tests offered by pharmacist Dr Björn Schittenhelm. By determining their antibody titers, the pharmacy’s pilot project aims to give double vaccinated residents the possibility to better determine when to get their booster jabs and to be more informed when communicating with their treating physician.
The Southern German pharmacy was already a pioneer in Spring 2021, when it was the very first pharmacy in Germany to offer COVID-19 antigen testing along with the test centres, thus increasing the district’s testing capacities. One of Dr Schittenhelm’s partners in both the past and current project is the company DoctorBox, a digital health marketplace that also provides the technical solution for the logistics and transfer of sensitive personal data.
The antibody testing at the pharmacy only requires a few blood drops from the fingertip, which are placed onto a special filter paper card and dried (Dried Blood Spots, Blood collection | EUROIMMUN AG). The card with the dried blood spots is then sent to the certified laboratory “Labor Becker” in Munich, where the samples are tested using the EUROIMMUN test system Anti-SARS-CoV-2 QuantiVac ELISA (IgG). The QuantiVac ELISA allows for quantification of the concentration of antibodies against the S1 protein of SARS-CoV-2 in the internationally standardised, comparable unit BAU/ml (Antibody detection tests for COVID-19 (coronavirus-diagnostics.com) and thus provides reliable information about a person’s current antibody status.
Organisational core element of the project is the technical platform from DoctorBox which allows to digitally book an appointment at the pharmacy and to transmit the personal information. The tested individuals also receive the results of their antibody determination over the platform.
However, Dr Ralf Arnecke from Labor Becker emphasises, “No advice regarding protection can be given on the basis of the antibody titer.” This is because other components of the immune system are also critical for protection against COVID-19, not just antibodies. They are called “T cells” (T cells: Important building blocks of immune protection against SARS-CoV-2 – EUROIMMUNBlog) and their activity can also be determined using blood analysis. Especially in high-risk groups such as elderly people or people with underlying conditions who are in immunosuppressive therapy, the immune system may be weakened, meaning that the affected persons produce an insufficient number of antibodies against coronavirus following vaccination. In these cases, looking at T cell activity may provide valuable information about the individual immune status.