Up to 8,000 adults a day will be given free access to antibody tests through a new national surveillance programme, which will be launched by the UK Health Security Agency next week.

The aim is to help improve understanding of immunity against COVID-19 from vaccination and infection. This is the first time antibody tests have been made available to the general public. Until now, antibody testing has only been available to specific cohorts for clinical or research purposes.

From Tuesday 31 August 2021, anyone aged over 18 years old will be able to opt in to take part when booking a PCR test through NHS Test and Trace.

Individuals who opt in will then receive a positive PCR result will be sent two finger prick antibody tests to be completed at home and sent back to a lab for analysis.

The UK Health Security Agency, alongside NHS Test and Trace testing services, will monitor levels of antibodies in positive cases across the UK.

The data collected will be used to help estimate the numer of those who were infected with COVID-19, despite developing antibodies as a result of having a vaccine or previously catching coronavirus.

The initiative may also provide insight into any groups of people who do not develop an immune response.

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid commented: “Our new national antibody testing will be quick and easy to take part in, and by doing so you’ll be helping strengthen our understanding of COVID-19 as we cautiously return to a more normal life.”