What More COVID-19 Testing Can Do for 2021

January 4, 2021
Kevin Kunzmann

From vaccine studies to reopening institutions, pooled testing may be a hugely beneficial tool.

Pooled testing for SARS-CoV-2, as previously discussed, could be a potentially efficient and even more accurate form of large-scale monitoring for coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) outbreaks headed into 2021.

But the benefit does not just stop at a public health level—as one expert stressed to Contagion, vaccine efficacy studies may benefit from pooled SARS-CoV-2 testing.

“We clearly are rolling out vaccines out of necessity, but on really short-term and limited outcome and efficacy data,” Christopher Polage, MD, of the Duke Health System Clinical Laboratories, said. “I think this is distinct from any vaccines we previously used.”

In the second segment of an interview, Polage discussed how pooled testing may positively affect vaccine investigators’ ongoing assessments in a population gradually receiving prophylaxes: how the vaccines work, for how long do they work, can vaccinated individuals become infected, and what does their viral shedding look like?

From his own experiences at Duke—where a pooled SARS-CoV-2 testing system was established—Polage believes this is a realistic goal for institutions and academic centers reopening in 2021.

On the subject of improved testing’s effect on our return to normalcy, Polage described it as a double-edged sword. More testing more confidence in social distance decision-making.

“I think one of the values of testing is certainly by recognizing positive individuals, I think that becomes a strong justification for asking them to follow recommended public health steps,” Polage said. “I think if someone knows they’re positive, I would hope they’d be more inclined to follow and participate in those things.”

The other edge of the sword, of course, is that a person could become less adhered to public health guidances if they receive a negative test.