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Public understanding of COVID-19 antibody testing and test results: A qualitative study conducted in the U.K. early in the pandemic

Lookup NU author(s): Jan Lecouturier, Dr Fiona GrahamORCiD, Dr Mei Yee TangORCiD, Louis Goffe, Professor Falko Sniehotta



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


© 2021 The AuthorsBackground: During the COVID-19 pandemic, antibody testing was proposed by several countries as a surveillance tool to monitor the spread of the virus and potentially to ease restrictions. In the UK, antibody testing originally formed the third pillar of the UK Government's COVID-19 testing programme and was thought to offer hope that those with a positive antibody test result could return to normal life. However, at that time scientists and the public had little understanding of the longevity of COVID-19 antibodies, and whether they provided immunity to reinfection or transmission of the virus. Objective: This paper explores the UK public's understanding of COVID-19 testing, perceived test accuracy, the meaning of a positive test result, willingness to adhere to restrictive measures in response to an antibody test result and how they expect other people to respond. Methods: On-line synchronous focus groups were conducted in April/May 2020 during the first wave of the pandemic and the most stringent period of the COVID-19 restrictive measures. Data were analysed thematically. Results: There was confusion in responses as to whether those with a positive or negative test should return to work and which restrictive measures would apply to them or their household members. Participants raised concerns about the wider public response to positive antibody test results and the adverse behavioural effects. There were worries that antibody tests could create a divided society particularly if those with a positive test result were given greater freedoms or chose to disregard the restrictive measures. Conclusion: Should these tests be offered more widely, information should be developed in consultation with the public to ensure clarity and address uncertainty about test results and subsequent behaviours.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Lecouturier J, Kelly MP, Graham F, Meyer C, Tang MY, Goffe L, Bonell C, Michie S, Sniehotta FF

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Social Science & Medicine

Year: 2021

Volume: 273

Print publication date: 01/03/2021

Online publication date: 16/02/2021

Acceptance date: 12/02/2021

Date deposited: 19/03/2021

ISSN (print): 0277-9536

ISSN (electronic): 1873-5347

Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2021.113778


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Funder referenceFunder name
National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) [Policy Research Unit in Behavioural Science (project reference PR-PRU-1217-20,501)