Survived Covid-19, got your immunity card and free life can start again: without a mask, without a travel and party ban? It is by no means that simple. At the end of April, when it came to the formulation and adoption of the Infection Protection Act, the topic of immunity card flickered briefly, combined with the promise that it would make it easier for health professionals to be deployed in critical areas. But even in spring there was a lot of uncertainty about the duration of immunity and when a vaccination would be available. Vaccination is a different topic, but its lack of it sets the framework for using such an immunity card.
This constellation probably motivated Minister of Health Jens Spahn (CDU) to commission the national ethics council, which was newly formed at the time, to deal with the issue of proof of immunity. But to this day, the acquisition of immunity after having suffered Covid 19 disease is considered unsafe. Effective antibodies disappeared from the blood of previously infected people within weeks, especially if they had no symptoms. Just a few days ago, such a finding was again delivered for a few hundred medical workers from the USA.
Because of these uncertainties, the entire Council agrees that the use of immunity certificates is not recommended at this point in time. The committee that otherwise advises the federal government on major ethical issues such as euthanasia, big data and genetic engineering also agrees on a second point. It advises over-the-counter tests to prove immunity to Sars-CoV-2 to be regulated more strictly – because of the dubious reliability and the resulting risk potential. The statement, a total of 53 pages, was presented in Berlin yesterday.
It becomes interesting where the positions within the ethics council differ from one another. However, this only applies to a situation in which immunity could be demonstrated with sufficient reliability. According to chairwoman Alena Buyx, the debate here became so controversial that those involved did not want to work out a compromise version, but preferred to make their differences transparent.
Half of the Council members could well imagine that such a document would serve well. At the same time, however, the application would have to be restricted, it should only be introduced “in stages, depending on the occasion and specific to the area”.
The other part of the Ethics Council rejects the use even if the scientific and technical prerequisites are better – for practical, ethical and legal reasons. This group was more skeptical about whether immunity could even be achieved safely, explained Judith Simon, a new member of the Ethics Council and a philosopher at the University of Hamburg. In addition, the use of an immunity card would probably lead to injustices in relation to individual rights and obligations: “Some are denied opportunities, others are made more responsible.” The latter has hardly been mentioned in the discussion so far these people would be used more professionally where there is a higher risk of infection. Regardless of whether the result would be more rights or more obligations, part of the ethics council fears that both will only increase existing disadvantages.
This group also sees too many consequential legal problems with such an ID card, such as its security against forgery. She therefore does not consider it responsible to invest resources here; these should rather benefit more promising measures. The spokesman for the working group on immunity certificates, Carl Friedrich Gethmann from the University of Siegen, pointed out a possible misunderstanding: “Even those who are immune must still wear a mask.” This also applies to protective clothing in hospitals.
Regardless of the sometimes different positions, the Ethics Council recommends in the current situation, among other things, to educate the population comprehensively about protection against infection for the common good. The Federal Center for Health Education could do that, but it should be done better and more precisely than before. Information should also be provided about the informative value of antibody tests.
Another recommendation is coordinated research into the coronavirus, especially its properties as a trigger for an infectious disease and immunity to it. Results from different federal states, institutes and clinics should be brought together in a targeted manner. Ethics Council Chairman Buyx made one more request to politics very clear: “It has to promote and objectify the discussion!” Never before has there been so much interest and commitment in a topic on the Ethics Council’s social media channels as now. The political debate should be continued in order to assess the risks again and again and to maintain proportionality when restricting freedoms.