Ralphs became the first retailer in the United States to offer rapid antibody testing at its 77 pharmacy locations in Southern California and the Central Coast, the company announced Wednesday.
Results for the finger-prick blood test are typically available within 15 minutes and will help patients determine if they have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a statement released by Ralphs.
The FDA-authorized rapid antibody tests, which are supplied by Whitmire Medical, are available for $25 to Ralphs customers who believe they may have previously been infected with COVID-19 and are not currently experiencing symptoms.
In September, the American Society for Microbiology reported that 73% of surveyed testing labs experienced a shortage of commercial testing kits for SARS-CoV-2, a capacity challenge that may have hindered testing accessibility for many Americans.
As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in many states, Ralphs' rapid antibody test may provide critical information about past infection to patients who believe they may have been exposed to the coronavirus but were unable to access testing at the time of infection, according to Ralphs Pharmacy Director Linh Lee.
"Making rapid antibody testing available at Ralphs pharmacies will not only provide an affordable and convenient testing solution for individuals who want to understand if they have previously been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, but also help clinicians understand the long-term impacts of COVID-19 and potential public health strategies for fighting the disease,'' Lee said.
Ralphs' rapid antibody tests are conducted by a licensed health professional using a fingerstick blood sample and the Assure COVID-19 IgG/IgM Rapid Test Device, a rapid lateral flow chromatographic immunoassay -- configured like a blood sugar test -- to detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2.
The test was first authorized by the FDA for emergency use in July and further authorized for broader point-of-care use in September. Ralphs' parent company, Kroger, is the first retailer to offer the testing solution to its customers, according to a company statement.
Research is still underway to determine how long antibodies are present following infection and if the presence of antibodies provides protective immunity. Regardless of the testing result, all patients should continue to practice FDA-recommended safety guidelines, including social distancing and wearing masks. The Assure COVID-19 IgG/IgM Rapid Test should not be used to diagnose an active infection, as the test only detects antibodies developed in response to the virus, not the virus itself.