COVID-19 'Immunity Passports' Could Be a Good Idea

Why not let recovered coronavirus patients out of lockdown?


In the United Kingdom, Health Secretary Matt Hancock says that the government is looking into issuing "immunity certificates" to COVID-19 patients who have recovered from the illness. Such certificates, he told The Telegraph, would "enable people who have had the disease, have got the antibodies and therefore have immunity" to "get back as much as possible to normal life."

Germany is also considering such a scheme, according to The Guardian. German researchers are preparing a mass study that aims to find out the extent of the pandemic by initially testing 100,000 volunteers for coronavirus antibodies. The testing would be extended to a growing sample of the population over time.

An immunity passport scheme could be piggybacked onto the testing campaign. "Those who are immune could be issued with a kind of vaccination pass that would for example allow them to exempted from restrictions on their activity," Gerard Krause, head of epidemiology at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research, told The Guardian.

One downside of the scheme is that it might tempt some people to actively seek infection in order to obtain an immunity passport as way to get out of lockdown. That would foolish, since a good proportion of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are young or have no risk factors. Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, warned the Guardian that this "would be putting your life at risk to try and catch it at the moment." Better, he argued, "to adhere to social distancing and to wait for the vaccine."

Nonetheless, this has at least some potential as a way to loosen the ties that have brought so much work and so many lives to a standstill. At the very least, it's an idea our officials should explore.