Context: Late last month, Chile announced that it would push for “release certificates” for those individuals who had recovered from Covid-19.
- The certificate would not prove immunity to the virus, but instead be issued to those who had finished a mandatory quarantine after testing positive for the disease.
More about news:
- Other countries such as the UK, Italy and Germany have also considered issuing “immunity passports” and “risk-free certificates”.
- As per reports, the UK government has also bought over 3.5 million finger-prick antibody tests that can be conducted at home.
About immunity certificates
- Such certificates are based on the idea that the natural immunity a person develops to any infection will protect them from contracting the disease again.
- Once infected with a viral pathogen, the body’s innate immune response kicks in, which slows the spread of the virus and potentially helps not lead to any symptoms.
- This response is then followed by an “adaptive response”, wherein the body makes antibodies, which bind to the virus and help eliminate it.
- If this response is strong enough, it may even prevent re-infection from the same pathogen.
How the antibody tests work?
- These antibody tests work by drawing blood from the person and using the sample to determine if one has coronavirus antibodies.
- Antibodies remain in the body for some time after the infection and hence are detectable by tests such as an antibody test.
- If the result is positive, it means the person has had coronavirus and therefore, may be immune to it as a result.
Benefits: If considered, immunity passports will be issued to those who have recovered from Covid-19 and are deemed to be immune although it does not provide a guarantee for immunity. Such people then may be able to get back to work and resume normal life.
- No evidence: The World Health Organization (WHO) warned against using such certificates, since there was no evidence yet that a person infected with Covid-19 could not get the infection again.
- The use of such certificates may therefore increase the risks of continued transmission,” the WHO added.
- Scientific, practical, equitable, and legal challenges: This is because it is not known if the presence of antibodies means that the person has developed immunity. It’s also not yet clear how long someone’s immunity actually lasts.
- South Korea and a few other countries have seen reports of patients testing positive for COVID-19 twice — and researchers aren’t totally sure why.
- Privacy issues: Privacy experts and civil-liberties advocates worry that an over-reliance on the certificates could limit people’s freedom of movement, or encourage people to infect themselves.
- False positives: If the tests detect some antibodies, but not the ones specific to SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes the disease — they could trigger false positives. And a false sense of security.
- Logistical problems: Enough test kits, such as at home antibody kits, are not available to scale up the determination of immunity on a large scale.
Vaccine certificate- A better option
Immunity certificates Vs. Vaccine certificates
- Further, while a vaccine for Covid-19 may be months away, immunity passports are fundamentally different from vaccine certificates since the former incentivises infection and the latter incentivises getting vaccinated.
- Vaccine certificates may be an effective way to start lifting physical distancing measures, but this can also be implemented once a vaccine is ready.