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Alberta investing $10M for targeted COVID-19 antibody testing

Click to play video 'Alberta announces $10M investment in COVID-19 serology testing' Alberta announces $10M investment in COVID-19 serology testing
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro announces the province is investing $10 million into targeted serology testing for COVID-19.

The province is launching a series of antibody studies that will aim to better estimate how many people in Alberta have had COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Alberta Health announced $10 million is being allocated to fund four different targeted serology testing programs.

Serology tests detect the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood, which will indicate if the person has previously been exposed to the COVID-19 virus. The new program will not allow for on-demand individual testing like the current swab program, but will be a targeted approach to test specific segments of the population.

Click to play video 'Alberta collaborating with federal government, other provinces on serology testing' Alberta collaborating with federal government, other provinces on serology testing
Alberta collaborating with federal government, other provinces on serology testing

“We know that there are people have been infected and were never tested,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said at Tuesday’s in-person provincial update on the pandemic efforts in the province.

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“Many of them simply because they never got sick, and that’s where serology testing comes in,” he said. “It detects the presence of antibodies in a person’s blood which can show us if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 in the past.

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“That shows us more about how the virus is spreading and how best to contain it.”

The serology testing is not the same as the swab testing that the province is currently offering.

“It does not, and I repeat not, replace swab testing. It doesn’t tell us if you’re currently sick or if you’re contagious — and it doesn’t tell us if you’re immune to COVID-19 to a degree or for how long.”

The four studies the province will fund are as follows:

  • Two pediatric studies in Calgary and Edmonton testing 1,000 children in each study every six months until 2022
  • A random, anonymous testing of about 55,000 blood samples across the province that have been collected for other purposes
  • 10,000 select Albertans over the age of 45 who will each be tested regularly

Read more: Alberta in final stages of validating serology tests to detect COVID-19 antibodies

With the above studies, the province is aiming more to take representative samples of the population, not necessarily just people who think they may have previously caught the virus.

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Click to play video 'Alberta investing in COVID-19 serology testing, Misericordia hospital outbreak and more' Alberta investing in COVID-19 serology testing, Misericordia hospital outbreak and more
Alberta investing in COVID-19 serology testing, Misericordia hospital outbreak and more

“I know that there are many individuals who are very curious about their own personal results,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Tuesday.

“However, if we recruited only individuals who thought they might have had COVID[-19], we would get a non-representative sample of the population, which wouldn’t be helpful for us to determine at an overall population level who may have been exposed.

“Serology is not a useful individual clinical test except in some very rare select circumstance,” Hinshaw said.

Read more: Trudeau says he’ll get coronavirus antibody test once serological testing available

Hinshaw added that the province is working with Canada’s national genomics consortium to compare what other provinces are planning for their serology testing programs.

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“We are collaborating with other provinces and territories, and the federal government,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta is the first province to officially announce a program.

Alberta Precision Laboratories will also offer serology testing for specific clinical purposes and funded population-level serology research studies.

Albertans who would like to be tested for COVID-19 can sign up online for swab testing, even when asymptomatic.