In a conversation with Recep Tayyip Turkey, President Vladimir Putin spoke of them. He boasted about how he managed to avoid infection despite the fact that dozens of people around his caught the coronavirus, even one who had spent an entire day with him.
Putin stated, "I have high levels of titers," referring to the measurement that is used to determine the amount of antibodies in blood. Erdogan challenged Putin to prove that Putin's number was too low. The Russian replied, "No, it is a high level." There are many counting methods.
Experts in Western medicine say that the Russian antibody tests are not reliable for diagnosing COVID-19 and assessing immunity. These tests only look for antibodies and can't be used to diagnose COVID-19. Scientists are still unsure what antibodies indicate protection and how long.
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, such tests shouldn't be used to determine if someone has an active COVID-19 infection. It can take up to three weeks for antibodies to form in the body. Experts in health recommend that tests that test for the virus's genetic material (called PCR tests) or those that look for viruses proteins (called antigen tests), be used to determine if someone has been infected.
It is common in Russia to have an antibody test done and then share the results. These tests are inexpensive, readily available, and actively promoted by private clinics throughout the country. This may explain Russia's low vaccination rate, despite rising daily deaths and infections.
Millions of antibody tests were performed in Moscow and other areas by state-run clinics, which offered them free. There are dozens of private clinics and lab chains that offer COVID-19 as well as other tests across the country.
"In certain cities, I had to do a PCR test, and that was not possible in some places, but I could do an antibody test -- it's much easier," Dr. Anton Barchuk, who is head of the epidemiology section at the European University, St. Petersburg, and associate professor at Petrov National Cancer Center.
In May 2020, antibody tests for COVID-19 became widely known in Moscow. This was shortly after Russia lifted its last nationwide lockdown. However, many restrictions remained. Sergei Sobyanin, Mayor of Moscow, announced a ambitious program to test thousands of residents for antibodies.
This was welcomed enthusiastically by many Muscovites. Contrary to Western experts' belief, antibodies were immune from the virus. Some believed positive tests could be used as a way to get out of restrictions.
Two types of antibodies were tested: those that are present in the body immediately after infection and those that can take several weeks to develop. Surprised, some people who had tested positive for the latter were given a COVID-19 diagnosis. They were placed in quarantine.
Irina Umarova (56), spent 22 days in her apartment studio, and didn't experience any symptoms. Six PCR tests were performed by visiting doctors, which came back negative. They also did additional antibody tests that showed a higher level of antibodies.
She said, "They kept telling my I was infected and that I needed to stay at home."
This summer, when Russia experienced a spike in infections, there was more interest in antibody testing. Labs became overwhelmed by the demand and ran out of stock.
This is when many regions made mandatory vaccinations for certain groups of people. They also restricted access to public spaces and limited the availability of some public spaces.
Daria Goryakina is the deputy director of the Helix Laboratory Service. This large chain of testing facilities believes that the increase in interest in antibody testing may be related to vaccination mandates.
Helix performed 230% more antibodies tests in the second half June than the first, and this high demand continued into July. Goryakina stated to The Associated Press that people want to know their antibody levels and if they should get vaccinated.
The CDC and the World Health Organization recommend that vaccinations be given regardless of any previous infection.
Russia's guidance has been inconsistent. Authorities initially said that people with antibodies were not eligible to receive the shot but then encouraged everyone to get vaccinated regardless. Some Russians still believed that a positive antibody test was an excuse to delay vaccination.
Maria Bloquert was able to recover from the coronavirus infection in May. A test she did shortly afterwards revealed that her antibody count was high. Although she has delayed her vaccination, she still wants it once her antibody levels begin to decline. According to the 37-year old Muscovite, "As long my antibody titers remain high, I am protected from the virus. There is no need to get injected with additional protection."
Dmitry Peskov, Kremlin spokesperson, and Valentina Matviyenko (speaker of the upper house) were both quoted as saying that they did not need to be vaccinated because they had high levels of antibodies. However, they ultimately decided to get their shots.
According to Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva of the Alliance of Doctors union, Russia's low vaccination rates may be due to the fact that some guidelines were not followed.
She said that people don't know (what to do) because they are constantly being given different versions of the same recommendations.
Although Russia claimed to have created the first vaccine in the world, Sputnik V (Sputnik V), only 32.5% of its 146million inhabitants have received at least one shot and only 28% of them are fully vaccinated. Critics blame a faulty vaccine rollout, mixed messages from the authorities and the failure to control the outbreak.
Dr. Simon Clarke is an associate professor in cell microbiology at University of Reading, England. He said that antibody tests should not be used to influence health-related decisions.
He said that getting an antibody test is for "your own personal satisfaction" and curiosity.
Barchuk, the St. Petersburg epidemiologist, agreed with his sentiments, saying that there are too few gaps in understanding the mechanism of antibodies and that the tests provide little information beyond past infections.
Some Russian regions ignored this advice and used positive antibody tests to grant people access to bars, restaurants, and other public spaces on par with a vaccination certificate. To confirm that the shot was effective or to determine if they require a booster, some people have an antibody test done before or after vaccination.
Vasily Vlassov is an epidemiologist at the Higher School of Economics and a public-health expert. He says that this attitude is a reflection of Russians' distrust of their state-run health system and their struggles to navigate the chaos of the pandemic.
Vlassov stated that people try to find rational ways to act, to base their decisions on something (e.g. the antibodies) is understandable. They choose the best option for themselves rather than the best. There is no way to ensure immunity.