This piece of the Associated Press’ Daria Litvinova it’s really fascinating – there is an obsession with antibody testing in Russia even when the number of vaccines is still low – only 28% are fully vaccinated and cases are increasing again.
Here’s a bit of an edited version:
When Russians talk about the coronavirus over dinner or in beauty salons, the conversation often turns to “anti-tissue,” the Russian word for antibodies, the proteins made by the body to fight infection.
Even President Vladimir Putin referred to them this week in a conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, boasting about why he avoided infection despite the fact that dozens of people around him contracted the coronavirus, including someone who passed by. a whole day with the Kremlin leader.
“I have high titers,” Putin said, referring to the measure used to describe the concentration of antibodies in the blood. When Erdogan challenged him by saying that the number Putin gave was low, the Russian insisted: “No, it is a high level. There are different counting methods. “
But Western health experts say the antibody tests so popular in Russia are not reliable for either diagnosing Covid-19 or evaluating immunity.
In Russia, it is common to get an antibody test and share the results. The tests are cheap, widely available, and actively marketed by private clinics across the country, and their use appears to be a factor in the country’s low vaccination rate, even as daily deaths and infections are on the rise again.
This summer saw heightened interest in antibody testing, as Russia experienced a surge of infections. Demand for testing skyrocketed so sharply that labs were overwhelmed and some ran out of supplies.
That’s when dozens of regions made vaccinations mandatory for certain groups of people and restricted access to various public spaces, allowing entry only to those who were vaccinated, had had the virus, or had recently tested negative.
Daria Goryakina, deputy director of the Helix Laboratory Service, a large chain of testing facilities, said she believed the greatest interest in antibody testing was related to vaccination mandates.
In the second half of June, Helix carried out 230% more antibody tests than in the first half, and the high demand continued until the first week of July. Goryakina told The Associated Press:
People want to check their antibody levels and if they need to get vaccinated.
Both the World Health Organization and the CDC recommend vaccination regardless of previous infection.
The orientation in Russia has varied, as authorities initially said that those who tested positive for the antibodies were not eligible for the vaccine, but later urged everyone to get vaccinated regardless of their antibody levels. Still, some Russians believed that a positive antibody test was a reason to postpone vaccination.
Maria Bloquert recovered from the coronavirus in May and a test done shortly after revealed a high antibody count. You have postponed your vaccination but want to get it eventually, once your antibody levels start to drop. The 37-year-old Muscovite told the AP:
As long as my antibody titers are high, I have protection against the virus and there is no point in being injected with more protection in addition.
High-profile officials, such as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Valentina Matviyenko, speaker of the upper house of parliament, have been quoted as saying they did not need to be vaccinated because they had high levels of antibodies, but ultimately decided to get vaccinated. your shots.
Contradictory guidelines may have contributed to Russia’s low vaccination rate, said Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva, leader of the Alliance of Doctors union. She said:
People don’t understand (what to do), because they are constantly given different versions ”of recommendations.
Although Russia boasted of having created the world’s first vaccine, Sputnik V, only 32.5% of its 146 million people have received at least one injection and only 28% are fully vaccinated. Critics have mainly blamed a failed launch of the vaccine and the mixed messages authorities have been sending about the outbreak.
Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor of cell microbiology at the University of Reading in England, said antibody testing should not influence any health-related decisions.
Getting an antibody test “is for your own personal satisfaction and curiosity,” he added.
Barchuk, the St. Petersburg epidemiologist, echoed his opinion, saying there are too many gaps in understanding how antibodies work and that the tests offer little information beyond a past infection.
But some Russian regions ignored that advice and used positive antibody tests to allow people access to restaurants, bars and other public places along with a vaccination certificate or a negative coronavirus test. Some people do an antibody test before or after vaccination to make sure the vaccine worked or to see if they need a booster.
Dr. Vasily Vlassov, an epidemiologist and public health expert at the Higher School of Economics, says this attitude reflects Russians’ mistrust of the state health system and their struggle to navigate confusion amid the pandemic. He said:
The attempt of people to find a rational way to act, to base their decision on something, for example, antibodies, is understandable: the situation is difficult and puzzling. And they go for a method that is available to them rather than a good one. Because there is no good way to make sure you have immunity.