WHO Warns That Antibody Testing Does Not Ensure Immunity: 'There Is Not Enough Evidence'

The world health agency said that people appear to have varying levels of immunity, and that more research is needed

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The World Health Organization is warning that having and recovering from the new coronavirus, COVID-19, is not a guarantee of future immunity from the virus.

As countries around the world push to reopen after weeks of lockdowns, there is a major concern that without a vaccine, there is a high risk that the virus will quickly recirculate. The hope is that with antibody testing — a blood test that can identify if a person has any antibodies to the virus — cities and countries can determine the amount of immunity among their citizens and reopen once enough people are immune, called herd immunity.

But new guidance from WHO said that there is not yet enough research on the topic to definitively say that the presence of COVID-19 antibodies means that a person is immune.

“Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an ‘immunity passport’ or ‘risk-free certificate’ that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection. There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” the organization said in a brief published Thursday.

WHO said that there are concerns about the accuracy of many antibody tests, with some giving false positives or negatives.

Additionally, the amount of antibodies in each person appears to differ, WHO said, meaning that people would have varying levels of protection against the virus.

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“As of 24 April 2020, no study has evaluated whether the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 confers immunity to subsequent infection by this virus in humans,” the agency said.

WHO said that they are issuing this warning with the increased interest in using antibody testing to determine herd immunity.

“At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an ‘immunity passport’ or ‘risk-free certificate,’ ” they said.

Plus, WHO said, if people are tested and learn that they do have COVID-19 antibodies, they may “assume that they are immune to a second infection” and “may ignore public health advice,” putting them at risk.

The need now is for further research into immunity and the chances of reinfection, the agency said.

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