U.S. Considering COVID-19 Immunity Cards: What Does It Mean?

Dr. Anthony Fauci

Getty National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci.

On Friday, Dr. Fauci revealed that the federal government is considering issuing immunity cards to Americans who have already been infected with COVID-19. This is a measure that’s already being researched in Germany and is being discussed in the U.K. and Italy.

Dr. Fauci revealed this discussion on CNN’s “New Day” program in response to a question on immunity cards. He said, “You know, that’s possible. I mean, it’s one of those things that we talk about when we want to make sure that we know who the vulnerable people are and not.”

He continued, “This is something that’s being discussed. I think it might actually have some merit, under certain circumstances.”


The Trump Administration Could Use Immunity Cards to Restart the Economy

This is one of the ways the Trump administration could restart the economy in the next few weeks, but it could only be deployed if there are widespread antibody tests available, something the FDA is working on validating now. In the same CNN interview, Dr. Fauci said, “within a period of a week or so, we’re gonna have a rather large number of tests that are available.”

He said these are tests that they already do for other diseases, but they need to validate them and test them to make sure they’re accurate and consistent. That’s the role of the NIH and the FDA, Dr. Fauci added.

Coronavirus tests that are available right now are only able to determine if someone is actively infected, whereas an antibody test can determine if someone had the virus but was asymptomatic. It works in recovered people by identifying the antibodies they developed to fight the virus. Someone who has recovered from COVID-19 would be able to return to work.

It’s important to note that the immunity cards are simply an option being discussed and not something that will necessarily get rolled out when the antibody tests are available.


There Is Some Concern & Criticism About the Immunity Card Proposal

Some researchers have said they’re worried that the immunity cards could create a two-tiered workforce as well as create an incentive for people to try to contract COVID-19, especially those who are young and healthy. In one article, I. Glenn Cohen, a bioethics expert with Harvard Law School, said that “like the ‘chickenpox parties’ of old, some workers will want to get infected.”

Chickenpox parties were an old practice that some parents took to deliberately expose their kids to chickenpox when they were young and the symptoms would be milder. Cohen continued, “That sounds crazy, but if having the antibodies becomes the cost of entering the job market and thus feeding your family, there may be workers who feel pressured into it.”

Another issue is that people who have antibodies and immunity cards could become favored for jobs, especially in the restaurant and retail industry, leaving others at a disadvantage. For such a measure to have any hope of success, governments would need to provide significant unemployment support.

Dr. Fauci also said that immunity doesn’t last forever. His optimistic guess is for “a few years” of immunity, whereas Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said, “My guess is that the protective immunity will last at least three months—that’s the worst-case scenario.”

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