As Europe gingerly eases its coronavirus lockdowns, many governments are scrambling to buy antibody tests to find out how many of their citizens were infected, in the hope that will help them craft strategies to avoid a second wave of COVID-19 cases.
But exactly how – or even if – the information will be of use remains unclear, raising the risk that public funds and government time are being wasted.
Switzerland, home of diagnostics powerhouse Roche which has developed its own COVID-19 antibody test, is one of the countries holding back from the dash to place orders.
“The government up to now has not bought any antibody tests,” a Federal Health Ministry spokesman told Reuters on Thursday.
“Their ability to inform us remains simply too uncertain for them to be part of an easing strategy,” he said, referring to the relaxation of restrictions, such as on free movement.
That hasn’t stopped makers of antibody tests including Roche, U.S. rival Abbott, Germany’s Siemens Healthineers, as well as Chinese suppliers, from receiving a flurry of orders and expressions of interest from governments.
On Thursday, Britain announced it was talking to Roche about getting hundreds of thousands of its tests per week, describing them as a potential “game changer”.
That’s after Germany said last week the Swiss drugmaker would sell it three million tests in May and five million a month thereafter.
So concerned about its ability to secure supplies, Finland is making its own tests.
The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) initially began using tests from “a European vendor” it declined to name, but switched strategy on learning the supplier couldn’t guarantee timely delivery for 30,000 tests it wanted this year.
“Availability was questionable so we couldn’t continue down that road,” THL’s chief researcher Arto Palmu told Reuters, adding initial assessments of the accuracy of its domestic version judged it “at least as good” as commercial options.