- As countries around the world are struggling to lift lockdowns due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, policymakers are deliberating how to deal with future outbreaks as and when they emerge.
- Among the ideas being considered is an “immunity certificate” or “immunity passport”, whose holders would be able to get back to work.
- Lockdowns around the world have severely impacted the global economy, with many governments facing glaring challenges such as high unemployment and fall in production.
- Under increasing pressure to reopen their economies, parts of Europe and the US have been considering issuing immunity certificates to people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have its antibodies– thus presumed to be immune to the disease.
What is Immunity passport or certificate?
- Idea behind the concept is that the people who are issued these certificates would be allowed to go back to work and move about freely.
- In Germany, researchers have suggested testing 1 lakh people, and issuing certificates to those who have antibodies for the novel coronavirus.
- UK has suggested that such a certificate could be in the form of a wristband.
- The idea has also become popular in Italy, where the lockdown exit strategy includes compulsory antibody tests as the country seeks to set up the certificate system.
Why WHO is against Immunity Passport?
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against issuing “immunity passports” to people who have recovered from Covid-19, as there is no evidence that they will be protected from a second infection.
- Instead, the certificates could pose a health risk by providing unjustified assurances of protection to individuals and their communities.
- 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.
- There have been reports, including from China and South Korea, of patients who appeared to have recovered from the disease testing positive again.
- Further it said that the issue of false negative and false positive both hinder the efforts to stop the public transmission of the disease and in the circumstances when accuracies of different models of testing across different countries are not 100 percent, the issuance of Immunity passport will further deepen the crisis.
Would such a certificate be reliable?
- Experts have cautioned governments against acting in haste, since much still remains to be understood about the spread of the virus, as well as immunity to it.
- Lack of necessary information would make categorising between immune and non-immune persons a challenging as well as potentially dangerous task, they insist.
- There are also logistical problems, as not enough test kits are still available around the world to be able to issue such certificates on a large scale.
- Also, many researchers continue to remain sceptical about entirely relying on antibody tests to issue certificates.
- At the same time, experts have said that issuing such certificates would create resentment among members of the community, and raise the possibility of stigmatisation.
- As younger populations are known to be more resilient to the virus, they would be more favoured to get immunity certificates, as opposed to older people, leading to divisions.
How would this help in the response to the Coronavirus pandemic?
- If everything works, the antibody tests and the assumption that recovered people get enough immunity to not get COVID-19 again, then immunity passports would help us get out of stay-at-home orders and economic shutdown.
- In theory, people who have an immunity passport could safely return to work because they would not get sick again and start passing the virus around.
- As tests become available, then business and activity could slowly return to normal.