Blood industry collaborates with CDC and NIH on large scale SARS-CoV-2 antibody testing survey


Blood collection organizations, testing laboratories and affiliated research institutes continue to play a critical role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and blood centers across the country are proud to be at the forefront. As part of a national collaboration, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and National Institutes of Health (NIH), Vitalant Research Institute (VRI), Creative Testing Solutions, and collaborating blood organizations including the American Red Cross, Bloodworks Northwest, New York Blood Center, OneBlood, Vitalant, and other regional blood collection organizations and affiliated donor screening laboratories, will launch the largest nationwide SARS-CoV-2 seroprevalence survey in 25 U.S. metropolitan areas beginning in June.

The “National SARS-CoV-2 Seroincidence Studies in Blood Donors” is a critical survey that will measure the percentage of people who have antibodies in their blood against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in an 18-month nationwide study. The presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in blood indicate that a person was likely previously infected with the virus, even if the infection was not recognized because it was mild or without symptoms. Blood centers and affiliated donor screening laboratories will provide residual blood donation specimens from around the country that will be tested for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies using validated assays and confirmation algorithms.

“Public health officials need access to ongoing infection rate data in order to make the best decisions for their communities,” states Dr. Michael Busch, director of the nonprofit Vitalant Research Institute. “By collaborating with government institutions and leveraging the diverse donor populations and testing systems in place to support our national blood supply, the blood banking community can provide these data relatively quickly. This allows us to monitor and respond to ongoing outbreaks and help evaluate the effectiveness of evolving policies to prevent future widespread transmissions.”

When blood is donated in the U.S., small samples of blood are taken from each donor to determine the donor’s blood group and to screen for infectious diseases to make sure the donated blood is safe for medical use. VRI and collaborating organizations will collect and test approximately 1,000 leftover de-identified samples from blood donations each month for 12 months and again at 18 months from each of 25 participating metropolitan areas (25,000 donation samples per month). This will allow investigators to take “snap shots” of the percentage of people who have antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 at different time points to assess differences in infection rates around the country and over time, as well as among subgroups of blood donors based on demographic data including age, gender, race-ethnicity and zip code of residence.

“This survey is the largest of its kind undertaken to date as part of the USG COVID-19 pandemic response and is part of CDC’s efforts to better understand this new virus and help inform how we fight it,” said Alicia Fry, MD, CDC COVID-19 Epidemiology Task Force Team Lead. “It’s because of established partnerships that CDC has with other federal agencies and blood organizations that we are able to rapidly put this survey into place to understand the total number of people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, including those infections that might have been missed.”

This seroprevalence survey is an expansion of an ongoing National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) funded project led by Drs. Busch, Philip Norris, Mars Stone and Graham Simmons at VRI, which leverages the NHLBI REDS (Recipient Epidemiology and Donor Evaluation Study) SARS-CoV-2 “RESPONSE” Program (). This project involves testing residual blood donation specimens for viral RNA and antibodies from Boston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle monthly for six months during March–August 2020. The additional 19 participating cities in the CDC-funded antibody survey have not yet been. The extended scope of this study is designed to allow CDC to estimate the SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence across the United States for the next 18 months.

Specimen collection and testing for the expanded program will continue on a monthly basis through June 2021, with one final collection in October 2021. In addition to publishing regularly updated reports on the results, CDC and partners will also ensure that results are accessible to government partners, researchers, and the public for use in public health decision making.

About antibody testing
Antibody testing, also known as serology testing, can detect antibodies, which are specific proteins made in response to infections. Antibodies can typically be detected in the body starting one to three weeks after a SARS-CoV-2 infection and may be detected for at least several months after a person has recovered. Whereas viral tests can detect SARS-CoV-2 during early, acute illness, antibody tests cannot determine if a person has an active SARS-CoV-2 infection but may help determine if a person has previously been infected. It is not yet known if the presence of antibodies that result from SARS-CoV-2 infection can protect a person from being re-infected, or what the extent or duration of protection may be if antibodies do provide protection.

At this time, a positive antibody test result for COVID-19 should not be interpreted to mean that a person is immune or protected from re-infection with SARS-CoV-2. Everyone should continue to take steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings when outside your home, remaining six feet apart from other people, washing hands frequently, and staying home when sick. There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.

To conduct this large-scale seroprevalence survey, CDC will provide technical and financial support to VRI.

Links for additional Information: