OKLAHOMA CITY — The state’s top blood center announced Monday that it will resume free antibody testing on all donations effective immediately.
The Oklahoma Blood Institute, which is one the nation’s largest nonprofit blood centers, has a test that can measure the antibodies generated from a natural COVID-19 infection rather than from vaccine response, said Valerie Trammell, a spokeswoman for the organization.
The group previously performed nearly 300,000 such tests from July 2020 through May 2021, but halted the screenings because demand for convalescent plasma and case numbers were declining and vaccinations were increasing, she said.
But now that the state is seeing its case rates climb, and Oklahomans are trying to make decisions about vaccinations and booster shots, Trammell said natural antibodies are another piece of health information that the institute can offer ahead of winter.
“As they’re facing down what could potentially be another high-case winter time frame, they can look at their immunity and natural immunity in conjunction with their vaccinated immunity and (decide) what decisions they need to make about their health,” Trammell said.
On Monday, the state reported 1,030 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the state’s active total to just shy of 14,000. More than 10,100 Oklahomans have died from the virus, state records show.
Trammell said they also hope the antibody screening will generate additional blood donors. The state’s blood supply remains at critical levels and donations continue to lag pre-pandemic levels. The institute provides supply for patients in more than 160 medical providers statewide.
When the organization last tested for antibodies, it found a 16% positivity rate among donors.
Trammell said natural antibodies among donors lasted about four to six months on average. People who suffered milder cases typically saw their immunity last less than that, and one man who donated convalescent plasma 20 times saw his antibodies last almost a year, Trammell said.
Blood officials aren’t sure how long natural immunity lasts with the new COVID-19 delta variant, she said.
Jolianne Stone, the state epidemiologist, said testing is a way for patients to know whether they have antibodies, but research is still ongoing about what positive tests mean in relation to immunity levels.
“If testing includes a way to differentiate between naturally acquired immunity and vaccine immunity, that would be helpful as individuals could better understand if they have had recent exposure to COVID-19,” she said.
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.