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caption: Coronavirus antibody test kits are key to plans for proposed "immunity passports," but the World Health Organization is warning that such cards may simply encourage further transmission.
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Coronavirus antibody test kits are key to plans for proposed "immunity passports," but the World Health Organization is warning that such cards may simply encourage further transmission.
Credit: AFP via Getty Images

What are antibody tests really good for?

Spoiler: not an immunity passport.

Unless you were extremely ill this spring, it's likely that you haven't been tested for COVID-19. But given what we know about asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic infection, that's no guarantee that you haven't had the disease and recovered.

One tool that could shed some light on that is antibody testing - a blood draw that looks for antibodies suggesting that your body has successfully fought off the virus. But it's not as simple as go out, get positive antibody test result, go forth freely and lick park benches and never get sick again, says ProPublica's Caroline Chen.

In her recent piece "What Antibody Studies Can Tell You — and More Importantly, What They Can’t," she explains the limits of the test, and current scientific research into this virus. (And whether or not you have immunity, licking park benches is one activity you may want to avoid as a general rule.)