The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has published a policy briefing highlighting an urgent need for consideration of the ethical questions raised by COVID-19 antibody testing and immunity certification.

COVID-19 antibody testing and ‘immunity certification’


Antibody testing is currently being rolled out for research purposes but may offer a way to assess the risk of individuals being infected and transmitting the virus to others. It could also be used as the basis of a system of “immunity certification” or more complex risk profiling.

However, the prospect of “immunity certification” raises many ethical questions around respect for individual rights and interests and public health responsibilities and has wider societal implications. The negative impacts of certification are likely to fall disproportionately on those who are already socially marginalised and disadvantaged.

We believe there is an urgent need for public engagement and consideration of these complex ethical issues before further development of technologies and services based on antibody testing.

This briefing note summarises the key points of discussions at a multi-disciplinary expert meeting convened by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics on 24 April 2020.

With thanks to the meeting participants:

Chair: Professor Bobbie Farsides (Brighton & Sussex Medical School)

Professor Dr Steffen Augsberg (University of Giessen)

Victoria Butler-Cole QC (39 Essex Chambers)

Professor John Coggon (University of Bristol)

Professor Cam Donaldson (Glasgow Caledonian University)

Dr Jennie Evans (British Society for Immunology)

Dr Agamoni Ganguli-Mitra (University of Edinburgh)

Dr Carolina Haefliger (AstraZeneca)

Professor Jonathan Heeney (University of Cambridge)

Dr Stephen John (University of Cambridge)

Professor Jeffrey Kahn (Johns Hopkins University)

Professor Anne Kerr (University of Glasgow)

Dr Pete Mills (Nuffield Council on Bioethics)

Dr Alison Powell (LSE and Ada Lovelace Institute)

Professor Barbara Prainsack (University of Vienna and KCL)

Dr Julian Sheather (BMA and Médecins Sans Frontières)

Professor Effy Vayena (University of Zurich)

Professor Jantina de Vries (University of Cape Town)

Hugh Whittall (Nuffield Council on Bioethics)

Professor Karen Yeung (University of Birmingham)