WHO issues clarification claims after 'confusing' tweet about COVID-19 immunity passports

George Martin
·3-min read

The World Health Organization (WHO) has rowed back on guidance after claiming there is “no evidence” those who had been infected with coronavirus were immune from the disease.

In a briefing note published on Sunday morning, the WHO said “there is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection”.

But after outcry from the scientific community, the organisation issued a clarification on Sunday - saying that those who had contracted the disease had “some level of protection” from reinfection.

In a statement published on Twitter the WHO said: “Earlier today we tweeted about a new WHO scientific brief on "immunity passports". The thread caused some concern & we would like to clarify.

This picture taken on April 24, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva next to their headquarters, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
The World Health Organization (WHO) previously claimed there was 'no evidence' those with coronavirus could not catch it again. (Getty)

“We expect that most people who are infected with #COVID19 will develop an antibody response that will provide some level of protection.

“What we don't yet know is the level of protection or how long it will last.

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“We are working with scientists around the world to better understand the body's response to #COVID19 infection. So far, no studies have answered these important questions.”

The WHO issued the original statement in response to a suggestion from politicians in several countries that so-called “immunity passports” could be issued to people in order to enable them to return to work.

A soldier from the Royal Welsh Regiment consults information on a clipboard at the entrance to a mobile coronavirus COVID-19 testing centre set up in a park and ride site in Salisbury, southern England, on April 26, 2020, during the national lockdown due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. - Britain's health ministry on Saturday said 813 more people had died after testing positive for COVID-19 in hospital, taking the death toll to 20,319. (Photo by Adrian DENNIS / AFP) (Photo by ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A mobile coronavirus COVID-19 testing centre set up in a park and ride site in Salisbury, Wiltshire. (Getty)

But Professor Babak Javid, the principal investigator at Tsinghua University School of Medicine in Beijing, said the WHO’s statement was “very confusing”.

He said it is “reasonable to assume that they will develop at least short-term immunity from re-infection, the critical questions are how robust that immunity would be, and for how long it would last.”

While Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, told The Guardian: “At this stage nobody knows for sure whether this is indeed the case or for how long it will protect someone, it could be weeks, months or years and it would be unwise to make predictions that are not based on any evidence.

“It’s worth remembering that we’ve only known about this disease for about four months, so cannot at this stage have any knowledge about whether immunity lasts beyond this rather limited time frame.

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