Apr 26, 2020 - Health

WHO warns against coronavirus "immunity passports"

Technicians in the testing lab wear personal protective equipment while processing bloodwork at MedStar St. Mary's Hospital April 8, 2020 in Leonardtown, Maryland.
A testing lab wear in Leonardtown, Maryland. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The World Health Organization said in a scientific brief there's "no evidence” that people who recover from the novel coronavirus and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.

Why it matters: Several countries, including the U.S., are weighing allowing people who have recovered from COVID-19 to carry "immunity passports" or "risk-free certificates," enabling them to travel or return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection. "The use of such certificates may ... increase the risks of continued transmission," the WHO said in the brief.

What they're saying: "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 WHO said.

  • The agency said it's continuing to review the evidence on antibody responses to the virus, which has infected almost 2.9 million people and killed over 200,000 worldwide — with more than 938,000 cases and over 53,700 deaths reported in the U.S., per Johns Hopkins.

The big picture: Chile has announced plans to issue "immunity passports." The United Kingdom, Germany and Italy have been looking into the move. Anthony Fauci told CNN this month that U.S. officials were discussing the subject. "I think it might actually have some merit," the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director added.

  • Onfido, a San Francisco-based identity verification company, is working with at least one European government to develop phone-based immunity passports for people who've recovered from COVID-19 and tested positive for antibodies, per Axios' Dan Primack.
  • The firm "has not yet spoken with U.S. officials, but CEO Husayn Kassai tells Axios that there have been indirect discussions at both the federal and state levels via partners," Primack notes.

Go deeper: How coronavirus antibody tests will help 

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