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Coronavirus Coverage: Is The United States Going To Issue 'Immunity Certificates?' How Do You Get One?

PETERS TOWNSHIP (KDKA) -- Several countries, including the United States, have considered giving "immunity certificates" to people with antibodies against the coronavirus.

The thought is they would be protected and could go back to work.

But is this practical?

If the certificates are valuable, people may be tempted to counterfeit or get sick.

"A major worry is, are we going to create a scenario in which people will want to get infected so they can get a passport and get back to work? I don't think we want to create an incentive for people to contract a virus," says Alex John London, a medical ethicist at Carnegie Mellon University.

And people who remain uninfected may face discrimination.

"I definitely worry we are going to wind up penalizing people who follow the recommendations to isolate themselves and don't contract virus, that they may be excluded from the activities of a normal life," London said.

Furthermore, antibody testing has not yet found its ideal standard. The FDA is allowing the currently available tests under emergency provisions.

"That is not the same as FDA approval, where they validate and check everything out and say this really meets all the criteria for a treatment or an essay to demonstrate protection," explains Kelly Stefano, director of microbiology at the Allegheny Health Network.

And we don't yet know how protective the antibodies are. From convalescent plasma studies, there is some indication they do protect, but for how long?

"We have some very early reports out of China, suggesting that it's not very long-lived the first time," Stefano said.

And current testing, called titers, only shows the presence of antibodies to the virus, but not whether these antibodies neutralize the virus.

"I can imagine this as a policy that would do some good in very targeted, very specific places. I just don't think it's a substitute for the expensive and potentially painful steps that we are going to need to get everybody back into the economy," London said.

Once we understand where the virus is and how long it lasts in a community, the less relevant "immunity certificates" might be.

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