Israel's Coronavirus Antibody Testing on Hold, Many Kits to Expire in 3 Weeks

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Health Minister Yuli Edelstein listens as he tours the coronavirus ward at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, on June 23, 2020.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein listens as he tours the coronavirus ward at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, on June 23, 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Many of the kits purchased to test for coronavirus antibodies will expire in another three weeks and be rendered useless, after repeated postponements of the serological testing that was supposed to start in late May.

The news was first reported by the Kan public broadcaster.

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Serological testing can provide a variety of information such as the spread of the virus and the percentage of asymptomatic patients. Unlike the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests used to determine whether patients are currently ill, serological tests only show whether they have contracted the virus in the past and developed antibodies to it.

The serological testing was delayed in part because it took longer than expected to validate the kits’ sensitivity and reliability. Additionally, testing labs are already overloaded due to the rise in incidence of the virus and an expansion of PCR testing, making it hard for them to also analyze serological tests.

A Health Ministry source said that only some of the test kits will soon pass their expiry date, but declined to say how many. He also said it may be possible to extend the lifetime of these kits.

“Conducting the [serological] survey isn’t in danger,” he said. “We have large quantities of a different type of serological test kit that’s in use. So it shouldn’t make a difference.”

The ministry has 250,000 serological test kits. It had initially planned to conduct between 150,000 and 200,000 random tests nationwide, but later lowered the target to 75,000. The tests will be done on people who come to their health maintenance organizations for blood tests unrelated to the coronavirus.

The survey was supposed to encompass 191 communities, of which 13 were defined as coronavirus hotbeds. The rest were chosen to reflect geographic, socioeconomic, ethnic, religious and size diversity.

Health Ministry Yuli Edelstein confirmed on Tuesday that some test kits would expire “if the survey isn’t conducted soon.”

“Our plan is that after the validation process, we’ll launch the operation,” he added. “We hope to do tens of thousands of tests.”

Nevertheless, he said, these tests would increase the labs’ already heavy workload, making it necessary to hire more lab workers and improve their working conditions. “Only under these conditions would we be able to derive true benefit from serological tests,” he said.

Though the nationwide serological survey remains on hold, serological testing did recently begin in one coronavirus hotbed, Bnei Brak. The plan is to conduct around 7,500 tests there, some among relatives of coronavirus patients and others among random residents.

People involved in the project said the focused testing is already done and the random testing is now in process. The results have not been analyzed yet.

Edelstein also said that the Health Ministry’s contact tracing center will soon hire 190 workers to help the nurses doing the tracing. He said he hopes that by next week, this will produce an improvement in efforts to break the chain of infection.

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