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The statement came as Chile announced plans to distribute “immunity passports” for recovering patients to use at workplaces, airports and other locations – and as officials in the U.S. and France expressed interest in similar plans, NPR reported.
The WHO’s statement would seem to negate the validity of any such document.
“Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an 'immunity passport' or 'risk-free certificate' that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection,” the WHO wrote. “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.”
The information was sure to be troubling as the world continued grappling with the outbreak, which as of early Sunday had sickened more than 2.9 million people and killed more than 203,000 across the globe, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Studies have shown that recovering coronavirus patients appear to have antibodies to the virus, indicating past infection, the WHO said, according to BuzzFeed News. But some of those patients also show low levels of neutralizing antibodies in their blood, suggesting that cellular immunity – in the form of T-cells that eliminate infected cells – is also needed for recovery along with antibodies, the WHO said, according to the report.
Chile announced its plans for “immunity passports” last Monday, intending to distribute the cards to some 4,600 qualifying people during the week.
“It’s precisely they who can help the community enormously, because they don’t present a risk,” Chilean Health Minister Jaime Mañalich said earlier this month, according to The Washington Post.
But Chilean health officials were already expressing reservations about the idea.
“There are serious doubts over the existence of long-term immunity to this virus," Cristóbal Cuadrado, technical secretary for health policy and studies with Chile’s medical union, told the Post. “We have called upon the government to reevaluate the policy and involve experts in the discussion before implementing the scheme.”
In the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of President Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, had called immunity certificates a “possible” idea earlier this month.
“It’s one of those things that we talk about when we want to make sure who the vulnerable people are and not,” Fauci told CNN, according to USA Today. “I think it might actually have some merit.”
In France, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo included immunity passports among proposals she submitted to the French national government for consideration, France24.com reported earlier this month.
In the same report, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., expressed doubts about the accuracy of antibody testing that would help individuals qualify for such cards.
Claire Standley, an assistant professor at the university’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, added that such a plan might also spark resentment between those who could pay for tests, if necessary, and those who couldn’t, and those who qualified for cards and those who didn’t.
“I have grave concerns about how these types of schemes could be implemented equitably and fairly, even assuming a reliable antibody test were available, and more known about the length of immunity and how protective it is,” Standley added.