Serious COVID Cases in Israel Plateau; Antibody Testing for Children Halted

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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COVID antibody test in the Israeli city of Netanya, this week
COVID antibody test in the Israeli city of Netanya, this weekCredit: AFP
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel has paused on Wednesday its antibody blood testing campaign for children after a chaotic first few days, limiting it to parts of the country with high infection rates only.

Meanwhile, serious coronavirus cases in the country have stabilized and now stand at 692. The number of serious cases among vaccinated Israelis is declining, while the unvaccinated serious cases continue to rise. The unvaccinated - who make up 20% of Israelis eligible for vaccination - now account for more than half of all serious cases.

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The number of unvaccinated Israelis who are getting their first jab  has tripled over the last month, and it continues to rise - with 11,000 getting their shot on Tuesday. There are still about 1 million eligible Israelis over age 12 who have not been vaccinated at all.

According to the Health Ministry data reported on Wednesday, the number of new cases remained relatively high, with 9,891 recorded on Tuesday.

A mother has her children tested for antibodies in Rishon LeTsiyon, IsraelCredit: Ilan Assayag

The Israeli military's Home Front Command, which runs the antibody testing campaign, said the pause will last for one day, and will resume on Thursday in communities where at least 12 percent of those tested were found to produce antibodies against COVID-19.

The antibody testing campaign for children under 12 was initiated on the assumption that many Israeli children were infected over the past year and a half but were asymptomatic and therefore never diagnosed.

A boy gets an antibody test as part of a campaign in the religious sectorCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

The goal of the campaign was to identify children who are eligible to receive a Green Pass, allowing them to avoid quarantine in the case of exposure, and reducing missed school days. While those 12 and over benefit from lenient limitations if they have been vaccinated, children under 12 cannot be inoculated and without proof of antibodies must get tested prior to entering events and some public places.

“In light of the data collected so far in the free antibody blood testing campaign for children between the ages of 3 and [up to] 12, the Home Front Command and the health and education ministries have decided to concentrate the effort in communities where the most significant number of those tested have been found to have coronavirus antibodies,” the Home Front Command statement explained.

Mayors around the country as well as Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash have had expressed skepticism about the direction of the campaign due to the relatively low rate of positive results. But on Tuesday, it was reported that the decision to reduce the scope of the antibody testing campaign was done without coordination with Ash.

The antibody testing campaign has not been a failure up to now, Ash said Wednesday. “There were various estimates regarding the rate of positivity, some assumed we would find more positive cases, it would have a meaningful impact and allow [the children] to continue to attend school.” In communities in which there is a low infection rate, however, “there is no point continuing to test,” he said.

The first day of antibody testing was reportedly marred by technical glitches and long waits. The cellphone app through which the public was required to register for the tests did not work properly and the computer system that was to store the data and generate the results collapsed. Thousands of Home Front Command soldiers who were deployed to perform the testing had to record information by hand, and the technical problems and long lines in the sun soured attitudes toward the campaign.

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