Experts to publish results of antibody testing in Changhua

National Taiwan University professors Chan Chang-chuan (left) and Chen Hsiu-hsi. CNA file photo

TAIPEI (CNA) — The results of a large-scale testing program for COVID-19 antibodies in the central county of Changhua are expected to be made public on Thursday, two days after the scheduled announcement was postponed due to an “administrative” delay.

The research team in charge of the testing project involving more than 10,000 test subjects notified the media on Wednesday that the results of the antibody tests will be made public in Taipei early the following day.

In a statement, the team said it will announce the results of testing for positive rates and response intensity of COVID-19 nucleoprotein antibodies, spike protein antibodies and neutralizing antibodies, at the planned press event to be headed by Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), a professor at the College of Public Health under National Taiwan University (NTU) and the leader of the mass-testing project.

The notification came several hours after NTU public health professor Chen Hsiu-hsi (陳秀熙), a member of the research team, told the press Wednesday that the test results will be made public as soon as possible “as a public service.”

He said Chan has completed an English-language interim report on the testing, which was conducted in collaboration with Changhua County government.

“As a professor in the field,” the report has been written with a focus on epidemic control and safety in the country, Chen said.

“It is a very important proof that no community outbreak has occurred in Taiwan,” Chen said.

He further explained that the postponement of the scheduled publication on Tuesday was because an academic research report must undergo peer review before it can be published.

However, for research with such social importance, the team believes it has a duty to “explain” the results to the public after an accelerated peer review, Chen said.

The results of the large-scale testing program for COVID-19 antibodies were originally scheduled to be made public Tuesday but the announcement was delayed due to a lack of time to complete “administrative tasks,” according to Chan, the project leader.

The delay drew criticism from Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), arguing that folding at the last minute will only cause further disputes.

The Changhua testing program, which was initiated on June 11, tested 3,517 medical personnel, 18 positive cases, 827 contacts of positive cases, 4,230 people undergoing home quarantine, and 1,500 senior citizens and their caregivers, according to Chan.

The data collected will contribute to future disease prevention efforts because the results will shed light on the risk of infection among high-risk groups and the production of antibodies in positive cases, Chan said in a report he wrote for the Chinese-language Apple Daily on Monday.

Over the past few months, Chan has held weekly press conferences at which he has argued in favor of universal PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing for arrivals from overseas and antibody testing for those already in the country.

He stressed that the point of antibody testing for the novel coronavirus is to help determine the true infection rate in the community and guide future policies to prevent the spread of the virus.

However, the CECC has argued that such testing could produce many false positive and false negative results, creating “a very difficult burden” for the health authorities, and has therefore decided against following such a policy.