• Routine tests to continue in health and social care settings
  • Public Health England given access to people’s vaccine status
  • Routine antibody tests to track vaccine immune response

Vaccinated health and care staff who are asymptomatic will continue to be routinely tested for covid-19 under plans to measure vaccine effectiveness, HSJ has learned.

Antibody tests will also be offered to some vaccinated NHS and care home staff who test negative for covid-19 as part of further research into the vaccine’s efficacy.

A Department of Health and Social Care official said: “Taking antibody tests at regular intervals allows researchers to monitor antibody waning to determine the length of vaccinated immunity.

“This requires the appropriate test to monitor antibody levels for the first several months after vaccinations, coupled with using different types of tests to give a better understanding of the long-term protection offered by the vaccine.”

It comes amid a row over the government’s decision to delay giving the second doses of the vaccine, which some fear will reduce efficacy, particularly for the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine, which many staff have received.

Antibody tests will also be used to track effectiveness in other ways. The official said: “For someone who tests positive after being vaccinated, an antibody test can be used to assess the case of potential vaccine failure to determine if the vaccine triggered an immune response.”

Meanwhile, antigen test results will be used to monitor whether people are testing positive despite having been vaccinated.

The DHSC official told HSJ there was “a minority” of people in which the vaccine “may not produce the desired immune response”. This means they could catch covid-19 despite being vaccinated.

The official said continuing the regular testing of vaccinated asymptomatic healthcare staff would enable those who experience “vaccine failure” to self-isolate and avoid transmitting the virus to unvaccinated people.

NHS staff have been testing themselves for covid-19 twice weekly since mid-November, largely by using lateral flow tests and then confirming positive cases with PCR tests.

The decision emerged after the government granted Public Health England access to the vaccination status of people registering for a test with NHS Test and Trace, in an update published last week.

Normally, PHE only receives anonymised data from the NHS to report on vaccine uptake, but last week’s change means the agency can see if a tested person has had one or both doses of the covid-19 vaccines.

HSJ understands the policy has been put in place to help PHE gather “as much information as possible” about the impact of vaccines on transmission and protection from covid-19.