COVID-19 antibody testing and ‘immunity certification’
People who have recovered from COVID-19 may have acquired a degree of protection
and be less likely to transmit the virus to others. It has been suggested that, if these
people could be distinguished from others who are more susceptible, they should be
freed from general restrictions that are in place to protect public health.
Antibody testing is currently being rolled out for research purposes but may offer a way to
assess an individual’s risk of being infected and transmitting the virus to others, and could
be used as the basis of a system of ‘immunity certification’ or more complex risk profiling.
The idea of immunity certification raises many ethical questions concerning respect for
individual rights and interests, public health responsibilities, and social justice.
At present there is too much scientific uncertainty and there are too many unresolved
ethical concerns to support the use of immunity certification as a way of easing
restrictions on certain members of the public.
It is nevertheless foreseeable that private individuals, businesses and organisations will
seek to make use of biomedical tests (e.g. antibody tests) to inform their practices and
The negative impacts of a certification system are likely to fall disproportionately on those
who are already socially marginalised and disadvantaged.
Urgent action is needed to identify and monitor these impacts, by engaging with and
supporting those in positions of vulnerability and disadvantage.
Regulatory measures may be needed to secure the benefits of testing while defending
against morally unacceptable and socially undesirable consequences.
For more information, we have also published a discussion paper on COVID-19 antibody testing and 'immunity certification.'