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Germany Is Conducting Nationwide COVID-19 Antibody Testing

Medics take care of a patient infected with the novel coronavirus in Dresden, Germany. The country has tested for COVID-19 on a larger scale and has had a lower death rate from the virus than many countries.
Matthias Rietschel
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Germany is carrying out Europe's first large-scale COVID-19 antibody testing to monitor infection rates and help prevent the spread of the virus.

According to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's federal disease control and prevention agency, the first part of the study is to draw on the country's blood donation services, a second phase will focus on samples from regions with large coronavirus outbreaks and a third stage will consist of a representative study of the country's broader population.

Authorities say they will examine about 5,000 blood samples every 14 days, while regions like Bavaria plan to collect around 3,000 samples from representatively selected households.

"It is not yet known how many people in Germany have actually gone through an infection and are therefore immune," read an April 9 news release from the institute. "The infection is often mild or even unnoticed."

Antibodies in the blood indicate that someone has had the virus. The institute theorizes that these people have some level of immunity, although there is no guarantee of full immunity or how long any defense would last.

The antibody test launched last week, and initial results are expected in May.

Germany, which produces most of its own high-quality test kits, is testing for COVID-19 on a greater scale than most countries: an estimated 120,000 tests a day in a nation of 83 million. The high level of testing has helped Germany slow the spread of the virus and keep deaths low. Authorities estimate more people in Germany now recover from the virus every day than are infected by it.

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Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.