Health Canada approves first serological test for COVID-19 immunity

A medical worker handles blood samples as part of serological tests for COVID-19 on May 6, 2020 at the laboratory of the Tor Vergata Covid hospital in Rome, during the country's lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19 infection, caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP) (Photo by TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images)

Health Canada has authorized the first serological test, which will be able to detect antibodies for COVID-19.

“Serological testing will contribute to a better understanding of whether people who have been infected by COVID-19 are immune to the virus,” the statement from the government agency reads. “Further research will also help us fully understand the relationship between positive antibody tests and protection against re-infection.”

The LIAISON test from DiaSorin, an Italian-based multinational biotechnology company, was authorized for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month.

“We started to work on an immunodiagnostic test to respond to the increasing need to conduct epidemiological investigations to establish the percentage of the population exposed to the virus in the absence of a diagnosis performed with molecular tests on a swab,” Fabrizio Bonelli, chief scientific officer of DiaSorin, said in a statement in early April.

Health Canada states that under the leadership of Canada's COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, at least one million Canadian blood samples will be collected and tested over the next two years as a way to track the virus in the general population. This includes identifying specific groups that are at a “greater risk” of having been infected, particularly seniors and healthcare workers.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Wednesday that the task force is working to implement this testing “in a matter of the next couple of week.”

“This is a critical step for the work of the Immunity Task Force,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “These tests will help us better understand immunity against the virus and how it spreads, so we can keep Canadians safe and healthy.”

Health experts across Canada have recognized that serological testing is an important component for understanding COVID-19 immunity.

“We know that people who are infected will develop some kind of antibody response,” Dr. Tam said on Apr. 27., adding that the level of immunity and how long it will last is still in question globally.

On Wednesday, Dr. Tam stressed that there are still questions globally about COVID-19 immunity, including how long it lasts, and these tests detecting antibodies days or weeks after infection will be an important component of that research.

She added that Health Canada is closely monitoring how the tests perform and their sensitivity for detecting antibodies specific to COVID-19.

“We want the top quality immunity test identified,” Dr. Tam said.