Comments in response to journalists questions about the idea of ‘immunity passports’, as mooted in the No 10 pres conference on Wednesday 2nd April.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, Senior Clinical Lecturer, University of Exeter Medical School, said:
“With respect to immunity testing and the issuing of “immunity” certificates, I advise caution.
“COVID19 belongs to the same family of viruses as the common cold virus. Infections with the common cold virus do not produce strong immunity and the immunity is usually short lived, usually about 3 months. We do not yet know how long immunity to the COVID19 virus would last for. Thus, is it very important to take note of this and continue to maintain infection control measures, post-infection, while research is being done.
“There is some evidence from Japan that suggests some people may be able to get second infections from the COVID19 virus, but we cannot yet be sure how common this is. We need more research in this area.
“The test for presence of antibodies does not translate into the patient definitely now being immune to the COVID19 virus, that is a super massive leap of faith and we must exercise much caution in the language and information we are giving out to members of the public.
“Of paramount importance is to continue with infection control precautions at all times, even after infection and it is important not to give out ambivalent messages.”
Prof Robert Dingwall, Professor of Sociology, Nottingham Trent University:
“The idea of ‘certificates of immunity’ is superficially attractive but in reality fraught with problems.
“These could not function like the yellow fever vaccination certificate that I carry with my passport, which declares that I have received a thoroughly tested vaccine whose duration of effective immunity is well understood – and which is accepted internationally.
“First, the science is just not there and will not be quickly. Immunity is only established over a period of weeks after the infection, so there is a problem knowing when to test. The BBC is reporting that none of the self-test kits evaluated so far is capable of delivering sufficiently accurate results to be relied upon.
“Second, there is considerable scientific uncertainty about who will develop immunity and how long that will last for. The duration of protection can only be established with the passage of time. People being declared well today will have to be tracked for several months and up to a year before we have definite answers. If immunity only lasts for a few months, then testing will have to be repeated constantly: the certificate will really only establish a person’s status on a particular day.
“Third, as a sociologist, I also recognize the risks of a black market in certificates and of the stigmatization of people who do not have them. We have enough social divisions in our society without adding another one.”
All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink: www.sciencemediacentre.org/tag/covid-19