PEORIA — Wouldn’t it be great to know you had immunity to COVID-19, which is infecting a lot of folks who never experience symptoms?


Or maybe you did get sick, but never got tested.


COVID-19 antibody testing, which could answer so many questions, is happening in central Illinois. But there are serious questions about how useful the current batch of tests are.


"I think the concerns about antibody testing is that the science and the validation of it hasn’t gone through to actually make it meaningful to the point we want it to be meaningful," said Monica Hendrickson, administrator of the Peoria City/County Health Department. "What we want to see from antibody testing is to answer the questions: Have I had the virus? Have I specifically had COVID 19? And am I now immune? Those are the questions everybody wants, but the current antibody testing doesn’t tell you that."


COVID-19 antibody tests have been approved by the FDA under the emergency use authorization process, which allows unapproved medical products to be used to diagnose, treat or prevent serious life-threatening disease or conditions when there are no adequate, approved and available alternatives, according to information on the FDA’s website. As such, information is still being gathered on how useful the new COVID-19 antibody tests are.


"It can tell you that you might have had a form of coronavirus, because that is a family of viruses, so it may not be specific, and likewise it won’t tell you immunity," said Hendrickson.


COVID-19 is a member of the very large coronavirus family. Some coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS, are very dangerous, but some are fairly innocuous. Coronavirus is one of the viruses which cause the common cold. COVID-19 antibody tests do not distinguish between the different types of coronavirus.


Another problem is that even if you test positive for antibodies, there’s no guarantee you won’t get sick again with COVID-19. The jury is still out on how much protection antibodies provide.


"So you are never home free, because it’s not answering those key questions, and we are also seeing that people can get the virus again," said Hendrickson.


Some area hospitals have begun doing antibody testing on their frontline workers in an effort to gather more information about the efficacy of the new tests. All workers continue to wear PPE when dealing with COVID-19 patients. Anyone in the public who has a COVID-19 antibody test come back positive should also continue to take all the recommended precautions to protect themselves and others from the virus, said Hendrickson.


Sarah Magana, the Chicago-based spokesperson for Medical Cannabis Outreach, a medical marijuana licensing clinic which helps people get access to the state’s medical marijuana program, was at the company’s Pekin office this week, helping them get set up to do both antibody and COVID-19 testing. Starting Wednesday they will begin doing tests by appointment.


Even though she was aware of the limitation of the COVID-19 antibody test, Magana decided to do the blood test a couple weeks ago.


"I wanted to know if I had the antibodies for it," she said during a phone interview Monday. "I realize there is a bit of nuance, that the antibodies aren’t necessarily specific to COVID 19, however, if I did have the antibodies in general, it would relieve a lot of anxiety about going to the store, being out in public. It might give me the confidence to feel a little bit better about it."


When the test came back negative, the result reinforced the need to be safe in public places, said Magana


"Now that I’ve tested negative for it I am more cautious. I do try to keep my distance, I'm a little bit more regulated with hand sanitizer and masks, things like that," she said. "So for me, personally, getting tested was about, how is this gonna change my day to day in the things I need to do in this coronavirus time."


Antibody tests through Medical Cannabis Outreach costs $200, $88 of which may be covered by insurance, said Magana. For more information visit https://medicalcannabisoutreach.com/covid-19-testing/ and www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-serological-test-validation-and-education-efforts.


Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.