Ministers have had to scrap plans to issue “immunity passports” to those people who have coronavirus antibodies, as there is still no proof that this confirms immunity from the virus. Instead, the government is considering giving people a “health certificate” to confirm they have had the virus and recovered. This means they will be able to enjoy greater freedom if and when proof of immunity has been established.
It comes as Boris Johnson is locked in talks with the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Roche, in a bid to buy millions of antibody tests from the company.
On Wednesday, Public Health England approved the Roche test in what is considered a major breakthrough moment for controlling the pandemic.
But, Number 10 has warned that it will be months before there is any chance that lockdown will be significantly eased and workers given the all-clear to return to a normal life.
It will, however, enable scientists to map more accurately the spread of the deadly virus, which in turn will influence policy on further easing of the curfew, possibly on a region by region basis.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “We have talked about some form of health certificate relating to whether someone has antibodies, but we need to have a better understanding of the level and length of any immunity the antibodies give.
“It is clearly an important breakthrough that we have a highly specific test, but work will continue to better understand the full potential of the test.”
A second antibody test, made by the US firm Abbot Laboratories, was also approved on Thursday.
The company claims that it can supply the UK with five million tests every month.
“If, after a month, no one has got the virus, we should be able to tell people we are confident it gives them immunity for at least a month.
“After two months we might be able to up that to two months, after a year we will know how much immunity it gives you in the first year, and so on.
“That’s when the health certificates will become useful – you will be able to use that document to show how long you have had antibodies and how long we think you are immune for.”
The deputy chief medical officer, professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said it would take time to understand whether antibodies will provide people with immunity.
He added: “You have to carefully study people who’ve recovered, people who you know have got antibodies, and follow them and track them and see if they become re-infected.
“And over time, hopefully, you get the answer that they’re not.”
It comes as France reacted furiously to suggestions by the head of Sanofi pharmaceuticals that it would reserve any COVID-19 vaccine currently under its development for the United States first.
French prime minister Edouard Phillippe insisted that any future vaccine will be for “the global common good”.
He said: “Equal access to a vaccine for all is non-negotiable. I have just reminded Sanofi’s chairman Serge Weinberg of this.”
Published at Fri, 15 May 2020 00:14:00 +0000