Health

People could get ‘immunity certificates’ after coronavirus vaccine, SAGE says

People are so unlikely to get Covid-19 a second time that they could be given ‘immunity certificates’ after a vaccine or confirmed illness, SAGE says

  • Although it’s possible people could get sick a second time it is rare, they said
  • Downing Street has toyed with the idea of immunity certificates in the past 
  • Concept is based on offering proof someone has had Covid or been vaccinated

People are so unlikely to get Covid a second time that they could be get ‘immunity certificates’ after a vaccine or confirmed illness, according to SAGE.

Scientists on the advisory panel said it was ‘likely to be possible’ that people could be freed from social distancing if they were proved immune to coronavirus

SAGE is made up of dozens of expert scientists who interpret research and explain it in simple terms to government ministers so they can decide on policies.

In a report presented by infectious diseases sub-group NERVTAG in November, researchers said they had ‘high confidence’ that people would become immune to coronavirus after catching it once or getting vaccinated, which triggers the same reaction in the body without actually causing illness.

Although it is possible that people could get sick a second time it is rare, they said, and there was not good evidence that people could transmit the virus if they had some level of immunity.

Now that people are actually going to get vaccinated in the UK it could be time the Government considered immunity certificates for people who have had a jab, they said.

Nervous about whether immunity might fade after six months, however, SAGE stuck to suggesting a ‘short-term’ solution and said more data was needed.

Downing Street has toyed with the idea of immunity certificates in the past but never announced a policy on the subject. 

Michael Gove this week denied that Britons will need ‘immunity certificates’ to go to the pub – despite a fellow minister raising the prospect that some venues may insist on proof that people have either had the illness or been vaccinated before granting them entry.

Currently, people who get a vaccine to protect them from Covid-19 will still have to follow the same rules as everyone else, which raises questions about whether people who aren’t at personal risk will bother to volunteer for it.

The UK will next week become the first country in the world to start mass coronavirus vaccinations after its drugs regulator approved a jab made by Pfizer and BioNTech, which studies suggested could prevent 95%  of Covid cases (Pictured: A volunteer receiving a trial vaccine in March)

NERVTAG said in the paper: ‘As SARS-CoV-2 continues to circulate, we approach a time when a significant number of people who have been infected in early pandemic waves may have some “immunity” that protects them during subsequent exposure.

WHO is looking at ‘e-vaccination’ certificates to allow vaccinated people to travel 

The World Health Organization is looking at ‘e-vaccination’ certificates to allow people given the coronavirus vaccine to travel, a representative said yesterday.

But the UN’s health body also said antibodies in people who have recovered from Covid-19 should not qualify for so called ‘immunity passports’.

Therefore, the WHO recommended countries do not issue such passports to people who have recovered from the virus, and also said it did not recommend allowing people to cross borders based on testing.

‘We are looking very closely into the use of technology in this COVID-19 response, one of them how we can work with member states toward an e-vaccination certificate,’ said Siddhartha Datta, Europe’s WHO programme manager for vaccine-preventable diseases, told reporters on a call from Copenhagen.

Estonia and the United Nations health agency in October started a pilot project for a digital vaccine certificate – a ‘smart yellow card’ – for eventual use in shared healthcare data tracking and to strengthen the WHO-backed COVAX initiative to boost vaccinations in developing countries.

‘In addition, results from clinical trials of novel vaccines… suggest that a high degree of immunity to Covid-19 disease can be obtained, at least in the short-term.

‘This new context leads us to re-examine the concept that those who have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection or have been given an effective vaccine might be given, for a period, an exemption from current non-pharmaceutical interventions  [lockdown rules] designed to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2.’ 

The concept of an immunity certificate is based on someone being given official proof that they have had Covid-19 or been vaccinated.

This could then act as a freedom pass for them to abandon social distancing and lockdown rules because people could be confident they wouldn’t spread Covid.  

NERVTAG said this could work because antibodies against coronavirus have been found in over 90 per cent of previously-infected people, and in those who were vaccinated.

Antibodies are substances made by the immune system that are capable of destroying a specific virus.

If they are specific to the Covid-19 coronavirus it means that person’s immune system knows how to fight off the virus if it gets into the body. 

This drastically reduces that person’s chance of getting infected and transmitting it to someone else, and may stop it completely in most people with healthy immune systems.

The only way someone can develop antibodies to Covid-19 is to have had the illness already or to get a working vaccine against it.

People would have to have their blood tested to prove that they had the antibodies before they could get an immunity certificate.

Questions still persist over how long immunity lasts for – the virus has only been well understood for around nine months so scientists cannot be certain of any longer-lasting protection than that. 

NERVTAG added: ‘Some form of Covid-19 immunity certification is likely to be possible but further data and considerations are needed before a recommendation can be made.’

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