Kerala's sero survey hints at the risk of school reopening. Antibodies not detected in nearly 60% kids

The findings of the third sero surveillance survey conducted by the Health Department in the 14 districts during September can make the government rethink it's school reopening strategy.

The report says that the sero positivity among children in the school-going 5-17 age group is 40.2%. This means that nearly 60% of school children in Kerala have still not been exposed to the virus. Fear is, the reopening of schools on November 1 could witness a surge of infection in children.

Health Minister Veena George said the latest 'Back to School' guidelines issued by the government were drawn up anticipating such a situation.

She then put the ball in the parents' court. "We have also said that children need to attend schools only if the parents give their consent," she said.

Among the adult population, above 18 years, the sero prevalence is 82.6%. In the fourth sero surveillance conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), during June and July this year, Kerala's sero positivity was 44.4%, lowest in the country. The LDF government had held this comparatively low positivity as a triumph Of Kerala's COVID prevention strategy. The increase in daily COVID cases during the second wave was also attributed to over 55% of the population that were not yet exposed to the virus.

Kerala's survey, held two months later in September, has now pegged the sero positivity at 82.6%. The immunity has been acquired either through natural infection or vaccination.

The Opposition has already asked why daily cases and deaths in Kerala were the highest in the country though antibodies had been detected in over 80% of the Kerala population.

Health Minister Veena George said the high sero positivity of Kerala was different from other states. "Here, the immunity has been acquired mostly through vaccinations, " she said. Early June, when the ICMR study began, George said less than 30% of the target population were vaccinated. Now, in four months, she said the first dose coverage had crossed 94%.

The sero prevalence in children, however, is a concern. Of the 1459 samples tested from the 5-17 age group, 586 were found with antibodies. The government itself had earlier said that a large unexposed population was fertile ground for the virus.

Though the positivity in children is half that of the adult population, it is still surprising. Children, perhaps even more than senior citizens, were the most protected lot and still more than 40% are shown to be infected.

The health minister said the sero prevalence among children in Kerala was still the lowest in the country. In the study conducted by the ICMR during June-July, 55% was the sero positivity among children in the country. Another study by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences said it was 58% in the country. "Ours was the latest study, and more representative, but still shows a lower sero positivity among children, " George said.

Sero positivity has been found to be comparatively low among pregnant women, between 18 and 49 years, in Kerala: 65.4%. Veena George said it was mainly because pregnant women were protected and also because there was vaccine hesitancy among them.

Sero positivity was the highest among the coastal population: 87.7%. Most of the clusters during the pandemic were reported from these areas, the minister said.

The sero positivity in Kerala's urban slums was 85.3% and among tribals above 18 years was 78.2%, which was lower than the general population.

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