The British government is starting an antibody surveillance program for adults who test positive for the coronavirus in order to develop a better understanding of its vaccine campaign and the immune response to different virus variants.
The program, which the U.K. Health Security Agency said would begin on Tuesday, will allow for up to 8,000 participants each day who book a P.C.R. test through the National Health Service’s “test and trace” program. However, the antibody tests, which will be free, will be sent only to those who test positive for the virus.
The information gathered will help gauge reinfection rates for those who had previously caught the virus, as well as measure breakthrough cases, and also study those who did not mount an immune response.
The British health secretary, Sajid Javid, said in a statement on Sunday that those who take part in the new public program would help “strengthen our understanding of Covid-19 as we cautiously return to a more normal life.”
Previously, antibody tests were mostly available for only clinical or research purposes.
The Health Security Agency said that it hoped that the data collected from the initiative would improve its understanding of the protection provided by antibodies after either infection or vaccination. It said the data could also provide insight about those who do not develop an immune response.
Upon testing positive for the coronavirus, those who have opted into the new program — limited to those 18 and over — will be sent two finger-prick antibody tests. The first must be done as soon as possible after the P.C.R. result, before the body has time to generate antibodies in response to the current infection, and the second 28 days later.