Physicians in Senate show partisan divide over legislation that would equate most positive antibody tests with Covid-19 vaccine

Sen. Ralph Alvarado

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

A resolution to require Kentucky to recognize most positive Covid-19 antibody tests as equivalent to full vaccination for the disease has passed the Senate and awaits action in the House.

Senate Joint Resolution 80, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, passed by a party-line vote of 28-6-1 on Feb. 15. The “pass” vote was cast by Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson.

The bill says it would require the state to “recognize individuals, including but not limited to state employees, whose serology test results show measurable neutralizing antibodies to Covid-19, quantified above the 20th percentile of the population of immunized individuals, as equivalent to being fully vaccinated against the virus that causes Covid-19.” Below the 20th percentile is the lower fifth of test results.

“If someone has below the 20th percentile, that would not be sufficient,” Alvarado, a physician, told the Senate. “In fact, it would likely encourage people to go get a booster to try to increase the amount of antibodies they would have present in their body.”

While presenting the bill, Alvarado noted that measuring antibodies to measure immunity is already done with diseases like measles, mumps and rubella and that his legislative approach is no different.

Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, also a physician, said current research does not support this approach. She said the newest data from multiple countries shows when you compare a native infection to being vaccinated, “You are 5.7 times more likely to require hospitalization with Omicron.”

Alvarado said there are “emerging studies” that show people with coronavirus infections are protected “perhaps equal or even superior at times” to those who have been vaccinated, and that 23 countries in Europe now recognize Covid-19 recovery to be equivalent to being fully vaccinated.

Berg said, “We do not have the science on this data. It does not yet exist. . . . I want this to be true. It is not yet true. And anybody who votes in favor of this is spitting in the eye of science, and really hurting our commonwealth.”

Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, said Feb. 14 at a news conference that he does not support the resolution because it goes against current science.

“It’s politics and not science,” he said. “And the Kentucky Department for Public Health should be able to give the best scientific advice without their advice being legislated. Now they could legislate a different formula for gravity, but that doesn’t make it right.”

The Senate passed similar resolution by Alvarado in last September’s special legislative session, but the House didn’t take it up.

If the resolution becomes law, it would only be effective through Jan. 31, 2023 to allow for waning immunity, which Alvarado says studies show is between six to 12 months from a natural infection. Berg disagreed, saying that “substantiated data” shows that natural antibodies start waning at 90 days.

So far, 56% of Kentucky’s total population has been fully vaccinated and nearly 43% of the eligible population has received a booster shot.

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