The World Health Organization said Friday there is "no evidence" of patients who recovered from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, gaining immunity. The group issued the scientific brief as governments around the world have begun to consider issuing "immunity cards" as part of reopening their economies. In fact, the WHO warned that issuing documents like these might only lead to the virus spreading further.
The WHO noted that some governments, including the U.S., have discussed testing patients for antibodies to the coronavirus and handing out "immunity passports" or "risk-free certificates" based on the test results. These would let people go back to work or travel outside under the assumption that they are suddenly immune to the virus. This idea does not have the WHO's endorsement. "There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection," the organization noted.
While the WHO supports studies of coronavirus antibodies among specific groups like health care workers, there still is not enough evidence to support handing out immunity cards to patients who take an antibody test. "At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an 'immunity passport' or 'risk-free certificate,'" the brief reads. "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."
Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CNN it was "possible" the U.S. government would hand out immunity cards based on a new antibodies test. Chile has said it will issue immunity passports, while France and the U.K. are interested in similar ideas, reports NPR.
The idea is that once a patient has recovered from the coronavirus, they would develop antibodies to fight it off, preventing them from getting it again. However, there have been an increasing number of patients testing positive after recovering from COVID-19. A report from South Korea found 91 patients who "recovered" later tested positive for the coronavirus after being discharged from the hospital. The WHO has suggested patients test negative at least twice before they can leave a hospital.0comments
"We are aware of these reports of individuals who have tested negative for COVID-19 using PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing and then after some days testing positive again," a WHO spokesperson said of the report. "We are closely liaising with our clinical experts and working hard to get more information on those individual cases. It is important to make sure that when samples are collected for testing on suspected patients, procedures are followed properly."
As of Sunday night, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases around the world has reached 2.97 million, reports Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has 965,000 cases and 54,800 reported deaths. Over 5.4 million Americans have been tested and 106,900 have reportedly recovered.