This piece by the Daria Litvinova of Associated Press is really fascinating – there is an obsession with antibody testing in Russia even though vaccine uptake remains low – only 28% are fully vaccinated – and cases are on the rise again.
Here is a slightly modified version:
When Russians talk about the coronavirus over dinner or at hair salons, the conversation often turns to “antitela,” the Russian word for antibody – proteins produced by the body to fight infection.
Even President Vladimir Putin brought them up this week in a conversation with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, bragging about why he had avoided infection even though dozens of people around him caught the coronavirus, including someone. ‘one who spent a whole day with the head of the Kremlin.
“I have high titers,” Putin said, referring to the measurement used to describe the concentration of antibodies in the blood. When Erdogan challenged him that the number given by Putin was low, the Russian insisted, “No, it’s a high level. There are different counting methods.
But Western health experts say the antibody tests so popular in Russia are unreliable either for diagnosing COVID-19 or for assessing immunity against it.
In Russia, it is common to take an antibody test and share the results. The tests are cheap, widely available, and actively marketed by private clinics nationwide, and their use appears to be a factor in the country’s low vaccination rate even as daily deaths and infections rise again.
Greater interest in antibody testing came this summer when Russia experienced a wave of infections. The demand for testing has grown so much that labs have been overwhelmed and some have run out of supplies.
It was at this point that dozens of regions made vaccination compulsory for certain groups of people and restricted access to various public spaces, only allowing those who were vaccinated, had had the virus or had been tested. negatives recently.
Daria Goryakina, deputy director of the Helix Laboratory Service, a large chain of testing facilities, said she believed the increased interest in antibody testing was related to vaccination mandates.
In the second half of June, Helix performed 230% more antibody tests than in the first half, and strong demand continued through the first week of July. Goryakina told The Associated Press. :
People want to check their antibody levels and whether they need to be vaccinated.
The World Health Organization and CDC recommend vaccination regardless of previous infection.
Guidelines in Russia have varied, with authorities initially saying people who test positive for antibodies were not eligible for the vaccine, but then urging everyone to get the shot regardless of their antibody level. Still, some Russians believed a positive antibody test was a reason to postpone vaccination.
Maria Bloquert recovered from the coronavirus in May, and a test she performed shortly after revealed a high number of antibodies. She has postponed her vaccination, but wants to get it eventually, once her antibody levels start to decline. The 37-year-old Muscovite told AP:
As long as my antibody titers are high, I have protection against the virus, and there is no point in getting an injection with more protection on top.
High-level officials like Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of parliament, both said they did not need to be vaccinated due to their high rate of vaccination. antibody, but they finally decided to get the vaccine. their blows.
Conflicting guidelines may have contributed to the low vaccination rate in Russia, said Dr Anastasia Vasilyeva, union leader of the Alliance of Doctors. She said:
People don’t understand (what to do), because they are constantly being given different versions of the recommendations.
Even though Russia boasted of having created the world’s first vaccine, Sputnik V, only 32.5% of its 146 million people received at least one injection, and only 28% are fully vaccinated. Critics mainly blamed a botched vaccine rollout and mixed messages authorities sent about the outbreak.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor of cell microbiology at the University of Reading in England, said antibody testing should not influence health-related decisions.
Getting an antibody test “is for your personal satisfaction and curiosity,” he added.
Barchuk, the St. Petersburg epidemiologist, echoed his sentiment, saying there are too many gaps in understanding how antibodies work and that the tests offer little information beyond past infection. .
But some Russian regions have ignored this advice, using positive antibody tests to allow people to access restaurants, bars and other public places on par with a vaccination certificate or negative coronavirus test. Some people have an antibody test before or after vaccination to make sure the vaccine has worked or to see if they need a booster.
Dr Vasily Vlassov, epidemiologist and public health expert at the Higher School of Economics, says this attitude reflects Russians’ distrust of the public health system and their struggle to navigate confusion amid the pandemic. He said:
People’s attempt to find a rational way to act, to base their decision on something, say antibodies, is understandable – the situation is difficult and confusing. And they choose a method that is accessible to them rather than a good one. Because there is no right way to make sure you are immune.