Israel on Sunday launched a first-of-its-kind antibody testing of the country’s 1.4 million children, a week and a half before the school year begins.
The serological survey, in which a finger-prick test is taken with results in 15 minutes, is a joint project of the Health Ministry, the Education Ministry and the IDF Home Front Command in an attempt to keep schools from going into lockdown come September 1.
The first day’s survey included tests in several ultra-Orthodox cities found that approximately one in every five children tested turned out to have antibodies to coronavirus.
According to a soon-to-released Israeli study conducted at Jerusalem’s Shaare Tzedek Medical Center, up to one-third of the capital city’s children were likely infected with COVID-19.
However, the same hospital also showed that antibodies start declining in children after only four months.
The serological survey is hoping to garner similar results, negating the need for Israeli children aged 3 – 12 who show antibodies and who are not eligible for vaccination to be required to quarantine should they be exposed to someone infected with COVID-19. Schools will also be able to function as normal.
“The broad antibody survey is necessary and might bring practical results that can reduce the number of quarantines and prevent classroom closure,” said Prof. Lital Keinan-Boker, head of the Israel Center for Disease Control. “As part of our pandemic management, it’s important that we conduct small-scale antibody surveys occasionally so that we have a clear picture of where we stand.”
An expert involved in the serological testing told the Haaretz daily: “I believe the test will show that the number of children who were infected in Israel over the past year and a half is about double what we thought.”
“Last week’s survey among Haredi children is not an accurate representation of the asymptomatic infection rate, which is likely higher than the survey revealed,” he added, referring to Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population by the Hebrew term. He contiuned:
The survey of the Haredim was a sample of convenience [meaning, not a statistically representative sample, but rather one that included the closest, most available participants]. We do not know who was tested, or why. In a serological test conducted in Bnei Brak last August, for every child who was diagnosed, there were 2.5 children we did not know about. If most of the Haredim are tested, we will have a better understanding of the situation. The most important part of the current survey is to calculate the latent infection rate and how many children are protected from infection.
Meanwhile, Israel has also kicked off a campaign administering a third booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to over-40s.
According to Health Ministry statistics published over the weekend, over 5.8 million of Israel’s population of 9.2 million have received at least one vaccine dose, nearly 5.4 million have gotten two, and 1,365,887 have received the third.