A Week Before School Year Starts, Israel Scales Down Antibody Testing of Children

The Health Ministry says they were not informed of the decision in advance, which would see the COVID antibody tests carried out only in areas that saw high infection rates

Ido Efrati
Or Kashti
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A child gets a COVID antibody test in Jaffa, on Monday.
A child gets a COVID antibody test in Jaffa, on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Or Kashti

The director general of the Education Ministry announced on Tuesday that the national coronavirus antibody survey of 3- to 12-year-olds will be significantly reduced.

Director General Yigal Slovik wrote that "Together with the [IDF] Home Front Command and local authorities, we will reduce and focus the serological testing on towns in which more than 10 percent have been infected."

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The blood testing began on Sunday, in a bid to measure the extent to which the coronavirus spread undetected among the country’s children over the past year and a half. The survey is a joint project of the Health Ministry, the Education Ministry and the Home Front Command, with assistance from local authorities and educational institutions.

According to the Education Ministry, this change will begin on Sunday, and the decision of which towns will be tested will be made by the military's Home Front Command and the Health Ministry. The Health Ministry later said that the move was not coordinated with them, and that the announcement took them by surprise.

Slovik wrote that every child who received a Green Pass – proof of immunity – thanks to the antibody testing efforts is a blessing. "At the same time, we are looking out for current situation assessments, and seeing that there is a need to coordinate testing to the needs that come up in the field."

Slovik's message follows doubt expressed by local authorities and the director general of the Health ministry regarding the necessity of the blood testing drive, due to the relatively low rate of positive antibody tests.      

Unlike previous antibody surveys, which were conducted to learn about asymptomatic infections within crowded communities, this one is supposed to have a concrete and immediate impact on those tested.

The assumption is that many children were infected over the past year and a half but showed no symptoms, and therefore were never diagnosed.

Israel’s authorities hope that a significant proportion of children ages 3-12, who are not currently eligible for vaccination, will be found to have antibodies and will thus be eligible for a Green Pass, exempting them from mandatory isolation should they be exposed to someone COVID-positive, and from COVID-19 testing which is now mandatory in order to enter sites and attractions. They will be able to maintain their daily routine, including attending school, and will reduce the burden on the education and healthcare systems.

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