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Health regulator tells labs to stop analyzing samples from Covid-19 at-home antibody tests

British health officials have told companies offering Covid-19 antibody tests to stop processing blood samples from patients in the UK, MailOnline may reveal.

Private tests to see if people have already had the disease and recovered are now available at various online pharmacies starting from around £ 69.

Superdrug was the first high street retailer to offer the service, and numerous websites offer similar tests, including Lloyds Pharmacy.

But now the government, previously accused of trying to control coronavirus testing in the public, has put the brakes on private testing.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have reportedly told companies to stop analyzing the blood samples that people submit for testing.

Officials have not yet commented on this, but it is believed that at least two laboratories processing antibody tests are affected.

It’s not clear why the decision was made or who made the decision, but sources fear that officials are trying to stop the sale of commercial tests.

It comes after last week’s Public Health England test tsar, Professor John Newton, urged people not to pay for private tests and wait for official tests.

The government has bought 10 million tests from pharmaceutical giant Roche and will start using it on NHS and healthcare personnel starting this week.

MailOnline has approached the MHRA and the Department of Health for comment, and officials are expected to discuss the matter tomorrow.

Antibody tests are performed by analyzing blood samples to look for signs that the immune system has responded to the coronavirus in the past and created memories of how to do it. These 'memories' are stored in substances called antibodies and the presence of those specific to Covid-19 indicates that the person has had the disease (stock image)

Antibody tests are performed by analyzing blood samples to look for signs that the immune system has responded to the coronavirus in the past and created memories of how to do it. These ‘memories’ are stored in substances called antibodies and the presence of those specific to Covid-19 indicates that the person has had the disease (stock image)

The way antibody tests work is that someone takes their own blood sample, or a medical professional takes it for them, and that is sent to a lab.

There, qualified technicians analyze the blood to look for antibodies to the coronavirus, which are substances of the immune system that are produced when someone is infected with the virus.

People then get a result where the presence of antibodies – a positive result – indicates that they already have the virus, or the absence that they don’t.

The laboratory analysis phase is now being blocked by the MHRA, MailOnline understands.

The best-known company that provides antibody tests, Superdrug, voluntarily stopped issuing its tests last week due to massive demand so that it could get through all samples ordered.

WHAT IS AN ANTIBODE TEST?

An antibody test is a test that tests whether a person’s immune system is equipped to fight a specific disease or infection.

When someone gets infected with a virus, their immune system has to figure out how to fight it and produce substances called antibodies.

These are extremely specific and can usually target only one strain of one virus. They are produced in such a way that they are able to hold onto and destroy that particular virus.

For example, if someone catches COVID-19, they will develop COVID-19 antibodies that their bodies can use to fight it.

The body then stores versions of these antibodies in the immune system so that when it comes back in contact with the same virus, it can immediately fight it and probably prevent anyone from experiencing symptoms.

To test for these antibodies, doctors or scientists can take a fluid sample from someone – usually blood – and mix it with some of the virus to see if there is a reaction between the two.

If there is a reaction, it means that someone has the antibodies and their body knows how to fight the infection – they are immune. If there is no response, it means they haven’t had it yet.

It did not confirm whether the MHRA rule had affected its services.

A spokesman said, “We have been approached by MHRA and are in constant conversation with them.”

The move comes after government examiner Professor John Newton urged the public last week not to pay for antibody testing.

Professor Newton, a medical director at Public Health England, Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee told Friday that curious members of the public have to wait for the government to run approved tests on them.

The government announced on Thursday that more than 10 million antibody kits were purchased from the pharmaceutical company Roche for use in hospitals and care homes.

It comes after high street chains, including Superdrug, started offering a home antibody test package for £ 69.

Although the test it uses has been partially approved by PHE, Superdrug asks people to take their own blood samples, which PHE has not approved.

However, the test is still legal and people can decide for themselves if they want to take it.

When asked about the new home tests, Professor Newton said that better tests will soon be available to the public.

He warned, “The public should be aware that those tests are not the same as those we reviewed and approved for use.

“The laboratory tests have a much higher accuracy. We would not currently recommend that people rely on the tests that become widely available.

“My advice would be to wait until we have better tests that will be available in a similar form very soon, although they are currently under evaluation.”

Antibody tests have been performed throughout the pandemic, and more than 230,000 people have been tested in an attempt to find out what proportion of the population has had the virus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced last week that early results suggested that nearly one in five people in London – 17 percent – have already had the corona virus, according to surveillance tests.

Meanwhile, the rate in the rest of the UK seemed to be around five percent, he said, amounting to 2.85 million people.

But none of the tests have been considered good enough so far to diagnose people on an individual basis – to tell them the results.

However, tests from major pharmaceutical companies Roche and Abbott are now government approved and will be used this week for medical and nursing staff.

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