PHOENIX — A program at the University of Arizona to test 250,000 people to see if they’re immune to COVID-19 hasn’t gotten the public demand that was expected.
In April, UA President Robert Robbins announced the school would be offering the blood tests, first to students and staff and later to front-line medical personnel and first responders.
Robins, who is a medical doctor, said someone who shows a positive test for antibodies likely is immune from getting the virus again. And that, he said, could allow people to decide if they feel safe when doing their jobs.
But Deepta Bhattacharya, a professor of immunobiology at the UA College of Medicine, told Capitol Media Services on Wednesday that only about 50,000 tests have been administered.
“The ‘take rate’ (among first responders) when we first started was pretty low,’’ he said.
The flip side of that, Bhattacharya said, is that there are still tests available.
“So now it’s available to anyone who wants it,’’ he said.
Anyone interested can sign up at https://covid19antibodytesting.arizona.edu/.
All this comes as Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday doled out another $115 million of money he is getting from Washington through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, this time to help the state’s three universities.
That includes $46 million for the UA, money that Ducey press aide C.J. Karamargin said is designed to reimburse the school for expenses already incurred.
An identical amount is going to Arizona State University. It has embarked on its own program of saliva tests for the virus itself, available to the general community, which provides a less invasive method than the swab up the nose to determine if someone is currently infected.
Northern Arizona University is getting $23 million.
In all case, Karamargin said reimbursement of the the expenditures fits within what is eligible for funding under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
In the meantime, Bhattacharya said the UA will continue to make the antibody tests available.
“People have their own reasons for wanting to or not wanting to get the test,’’ he said. But Bhattacharya said he is expecting the demand to increase.
“Now that the vaccines are starting to roll out there are going to be people that want to confirm that they mounted a good antibody response to the vaccine,’’ he said, meaning they will have immunity for some period of time.
That, in turn, leaves the question of how long immunity — whether from a vaccine or having a bout of COVID-19 — will last.
“Well, it’s lasted as long as we’ve been able to look,’’ Bhattacharya said.
“We’ve looked out seven months post infection and we still see antibodies,’’ he said. “So at this point I don’t think there’s going to be any reason to think that people will be susceptible soon after they recovered.’’
Reinfection, Bhattacharya said, is possible. But he said it’s not likely or frequent.