The Kroger Co. has begun offering customers rapid antibody COVID-19 testing and plans to roll out the service to all of its 2,200-plus pharmacies.

Kroger Health, the company’s health care services arm, said Wednesday that the Food and Drug Administration-authorized rapid antibody tests are now available at Ralphs Grocery pharmacies in California and Kroger pharmacies Michigan. The tests are slated to be available at all Kroger Co. pharmacies and 220-plus Little Clinic locations in 35 states by the end of November.

With the deployment, Kroger said it’s the nation’s first retailer to offer the antibody testing solution to customers.

Rapid antibody testing helps inform patients if they previously have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Supplied by Sumner, Wash.-based medical devices company Whitmire Medical, the tests are conducted using a finger-prick blood sample, with results typically available within 15 minutes, Kroger Health said. People who think they may have been infected with COVID-19 and aren’t currently experiencing symptoms are eligible for the test, which costs $25.

Kroger Health noted that the rapid antibody testing builds on its clinic and at-home COVID-19 diagnostic testing services. The company said the antibody tests may provide critical information about past infection to patients who may have been exposed to coronavirus but weren’t able to get testing at the time of infection.The antibody testing builds on Kroger Health’s drive-thru, clinic and at-home COVID-19 diagnostic services.

Citing research from the American Society for Microbiology, Kroger Health said 73% of surveyed testing labs faced a shortage of commercial testing kits for SARS-CoV-2 in September, which may have hindered test accessibility for many Americans.

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Kroger Heath has remained committed to helping people live healthier lives by offering in-clinic and at-home COVID-19 testing solutions supported by our multi-disciplinary team of licensed, trained and experienced health care providers,” Kroger Health President Colleen Lindholz said in a statement. “Making rapid antibody testing available across our family of 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.”

Kroger licensed health professionals perform the antibody tests using a fingerstick blood sample and the Assure COVID-19 IgG/IgM, a rapid test device — configured like a blood sugar test — designed to detect antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. The test was first authorized by the FDA for emergency use in July and then cleared for wider point-of-care use in September, Kroger said. The company noted that research is ongoing to determine how long antibodies last following infection and if their presence provides protective immunity to the virus.

Cincinnati-based Kroger has steadily expanded its coronavirus testing and diagnostic services. In August, Kroger Health rolled out COVID-19 testing to all of its Little Clinic locations in nine states. Earlier that month, Kroger unveiled COVIDCare Plus, a coronavirus testing solution for employers that includes the Kroger Health’s FDA-authorized COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit — a self-administered nasal swab test — and access to clinical health services. COVIDCare Plus is now available in 29 states.

In early July, Kroger announced the availability of the COVID-19 Test Home Collection Kit to all associates, and in May the company began offering frontline workers access to free coronavirus tests, either via self-administered test kits or drive-thru test sites.

Source: Supermarket News