Coronavirus 'Immunity Passports' Are Being Considered

Some pundits are discussing so-called "immunity passports" as the next step in responding to the coronavirus pandemic, but according to the World Health Organization, that is a bad idea. The WHO released a scientific brief on Friday explaining that, right now it is not safe to issue any kind of certificate of immunity, even to those who have survived COVID-19 already. That's because there is "currently no evidence" suggesting that a person cannot be reinfected with the virus.

The concept of "immunity passports" has been gaining traction as communities all over the world look for ways to reopen public places and resume normal life. According to a report by Vox, some countries like Germany and Chile have even begun looking into the idea seriously. However, the WHO said that there is no way to guarantee that anyone has immunity to COVID-19 right now, not even those with antibodies against it present in their blood. Experts warned that "immunity passports" might even cause a surge in new infections, hospitalizations and deaths if they were instituted.

"There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection," read the WHO's brief on Friday. "People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may therefore increase the risks of continued transmission."

Most people considering immunity passports as an option suggest expanding antibody testing capabilities in their community, so that a doctor would have to sign off, verifying that a person had COVID-19 antibodies in their bloodstream. However, the WHO brief points out the startling lack of research on coronaviruses, SARS and MERS in general, not to mention COVID-19 itself. What little data there is does not instil much confidence that COVID-19 survivors are immune to catching it again.

According to Vox, scientists have observed antibodies against the coronavirus dropping in the weeks, months and years after a patient survives the virus. Experts say this does not necessarily mean they have no immunity to the virus anymore, as the body may store "blueprints" for the antibodies in case they are needed again.

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So far, the data on COVID-19 specifically is not clear. Epidemiologist Marc Lipstitch wrote an article on the available evidence for The New York Times, saying that "an educated guess" on immunity was that "After being infected with SARS-CoV-2, most individuals will have an immune response, some better than others. That response, it may be assumed, will offer some protection over the medium term — at least a year — and then its effectiveness might decline."

For the latest information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the websites of the CDC and the World Health Organization.