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This piece of Associated Press’ Daria Litvinova really enticing – there is a craze for antibody tests in Russia even though vaccine uptake remains low – only 28% are fully vaccinated – and cases are rising again.

Here is a slightly edited version:

When Russians talk about the coronavirus at dinner or in hair salons, the conversation often turns to “antitela,” the Russian word for antibodies-the proteins the body makes to fight inflammation. infection.

Although President Vladimir Putin referred to them this week in a conversation with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who boasted why he avoided the infection even though many people around him had caught the coronavirus, including someone who spent all day with the head of the Kremlin.

“I have a high titer,” Putin said, referring to the measurement used to describe the concentration of antibodies in the blood. When Erdogan challenged him that the number Putin had given was low, the Russian insisted, “No, it’s a high level. There are different methods of counting.”

But Western health experts say the antibody tests that are so popular in Russia are not reliable either in diagnosing COVID-19 or assessing its safety.

[…]

In Russia, it is common to take an antibody test and share the results. The tests are inexpensive, widely available and actively sold by private clinics across the country, and their use appears to be a factor in the low vaccination rate in the country even as daily deaths and infections are rising again. .

[..]

More interest in antibody testing came this summer when Russia had an influx of infections. The demand for tests is so high that labs are overwhelmed and some have run out of supplies.

That’s when dozens of regions mandated vaccination for certain groups of people and restricted access to various public spaces, allowing only those who had been vaccinated, had the virus, or tested of the negative for it recently.

Daria Goryakina, deputy director of Helix Laboratory Service, a large chain of testing facilities, believes the increasing interest in antibody testing is connected to vaccination mandates.

In the second half of June, Helix performed 230% more antibody tests than in the first half, and high demand continued into the first week of July. Goryakina told The Associated Press .:


People want to check their antibody levels and if they need to be vaccinated.

Both the World Health Organization and the CDC recommend vaccination regardless of previous infection.

The rule in Russia is different, with authorities initially saying that positive tests for antibodies are not eligible for the shot, but then urging everyone to be vaccinated regardless of their antibody levels. However, some Russians believe that a positive antibody test is a reason to arrange vaccination.

Maria Bloquert recovered from the coronavirus in May, and a test she took shortly after revealed high antibody counts. He withdrew his vaccination but wanted to get it eventually, once his antibody levels started to decline. The 37-year-old Muscovite told the AP:


As long as my antibody titers are high, I have protection from the virus, and there is no point in being injected with more protection on top of it.

High -profile officials, such as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov and Valentina Matviyenko, speakers of the upper house of parliament, both noted that they did not need to be vaccinated because of the presence of high levels of antibodies, but eventually they decided to get their shots.

Conflicting guidelines may have contributed to Russia’s low vaccination rate, Drs. Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Alliance of Doctors union. He says:


People do not understand (what to do), because they are constantly given different versions ”of recommendations.

Although Russia is proud to create the world’s first vaccine, Sputnik V, only 32.5% of its 146 million people got at least one shot, and only 28% were fully vaccinated. Critics have primarily blamed a botched vaccine rollout and mixed messages sent by authorities about the outbreak.

Dr. Simon Clarke, an associate professor of cellular microbiology at the University of Reading in England, said antibody tests should not influence any health-related decisions.

Taking an antibody test “is for your own personal satisfaction and curiosity,” he added.

Barchuk, the epidemiologist of St. Petersburg, has echoed his feelings, saying there are many gaps in understanding how antibodies work, and the tests offer little information beyond previous infections.

But some regions of Russia have ignored that advice, using positive antibody tests to allow people access to restaurants, bars and other public places equivalent to a vaccination certificate or a negative coronavirus testing. Some people get an antibody test before or after vaccination to make sure the shot is working or to see if they need a booster.

Dr. Vasily Vlassov, an epidemiologist and a public health expert of the Higher School of Economics, said this behavior reflects Russians ’lack of confidence in the state-run health care system and their struggle to navigate the confusion in the midst of the pandemic. He said:


People’s attempt to find a rational way of acting, to base their decision on something, for example antibodies, is understandable – the situation is difficult and worrisome. And they opt for a method that is available to them rather than a good one. Because there is no good method to make sure you have immunity.

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