Immunity certificates for people who have recovered from coronavirus would be “dangerous” and unnecessary, a health expert has warned, in a blow for the UK government’s strategy to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, told a press conference on Thursday that the government had considered using the documents to allow people to “get back, as much as possible, to normal life”.
However, Eleanor Riley, a professor of immunology and infectious disease at the University of Edinburgh, said such certificates would give a “sense of false security” about the public’s protection from the disease.
“It’s not something that we’ve ever done before. When we vaccinate people, particularly for certain diseases where they’re going to travel overseas… we give people a certificate saying they have been vaccinated,” Ms Riley said.
“But that certificate doesn’t say they are immune and there’s a difference. We don’t know yet whether somebody who has had this virus is immune.”
She added: “So to give a certificate saying somebody is immune, I think is actually quite dangerous because: A, we don’t know if it’s true and B, it could give people a slight sense of false security, where they start to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise do.
“For the general public, saying you’re immune they will think ‘oh OK, I don’t need to worry anymore’ – and there will be people who will die as a result of that.
“I think it’s very risky and I don’t think it’s necessary.”
The Department of Health said it could not currently provide further information on the plan to issue certificates as it was “too early in the science of immunity”.
No antibody test has been approved for use in the UK yet.