COVID-19 antibody testing and ‘immunity certification’

Policy Briefing

Published 18/06/2020

Immunity certificates rapid policy briefing Page 1

This rapid policy briefing looks at the ethical questions raised by 'immunity certification.'

COVID test

Overview

  • 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 decisions.
  • 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.'

Project team

Pete web square2015

Pete Mills

Assistant Director

Pete is part of the senior management team. He is responsible for leading Council projects and inquiries and speaking on behalf the Council on a range of ethical issues. Before joining the Council in 2011, he worked on scientific development and bioethics at the Department of Health, where he led the Human Genetics Commission, and on assisted reproduction and embryo research policy for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority

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