New immunity testing could reopen international borders sooner

Idemia business development manager, Pete Smith, along with researchers are working on new technology to help screen international passengers for COVID once travel resumes and borders reopen. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Idemia business development manager, Pete Smith, along with researchers are working on new technology to help screen international passengers for COVID once travel resumes and borders reopen. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

International arrivals could have to give a finger-prick blood sample when they arrive in Australia to test their immunity levels for COVID-19, as part of new measures being developed by Canberra researchers.

Research and development company Idemia, alongside New Zealand-based company Orbis Diagnostics, has been using Canberra research laboratories to measure the viability of such testing, with the finger pricks potentially eliminating the need for hotel quarantine.

The immunity testing would involve incoming passengers having a small blood sample taken via a finger prick when they land.

The blood sample would then be tested to see if a person has neutralising antibodies in their system that would make them less susceptible to COVID-19, or whether that person had already caught COVID-19 and would be less at risk of being infected a second time.

The technology's developers said the test results would be known to passengers in a matter of minutes.

As COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out across Australia and other countries around the world, researchers and developers for the immunity testing have also said it could be used to confirm whether a person has received the jab.

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The companies behind the technology said it was hoped the testing would be rolled out into Australian and New Zealand airports by the middle of 2021.

Idemia managing director Xavier Assouad said the testing results would be known within 15 minutes of the blood samples being taken.

"More people will be looking to travel to Australia and they would want to demonstrate that they have a high level of immunity on arrival and wouldn't need mandatory quarantine," Mr Assouad said.

"On top of that, you have challenges where you don't know what speed that people's immunity may be waning, and so there would be that immunity testing to fill the gap."

Mr Assouad said the immunity testing would also be a way to ensure people arriving in Australia had received a COVID-19 vaccine in their home country.

"People may be arriving in Australia where we don't know if they had been vaccinated or not because we don't have that data," he said.

Part of the research into the immunity testing is being carried out at an innovation laboratory in Barton.

There, work has been under way on how the results of the immunity testing could be linked to people's passports or digital wallets, confirming to airport authorities of the test result.

"One of the aspects we're looking at is integration in a traveller analytics suite for border risk assessments," Mr Assouad said.

"That can determine both the health risk and the security risk and that test will also enable government to keep total sovereignty of the health risk they are ready to accept."

Discussions have been held between Idemia and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee about the possible rollout of the immunity testing.

A federal health department spokeswoman said the government was aware of several companies exploring immunity testing for COVID-19.

"The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee regularly receives updates from its expert standing committee, the Public Health Laboratory Network, on any new testing technology emerging both domestically and internationally that may have a role in pandemic response activities," the spokeswoman said.

"The Australian government will continue to seek advice through its expert advisory committees and monitor the emerging literature to determine where there is a role for rapid testing for screening purposes in select settings in the future. Any testing technology new to Australia requires very careful assessment by the Therapeutic Goods Administration."

This story Immunity testing could reopen borders sooner first appeared on The Canberra Times.