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Could Universal Immunity Testing Help To Determine Who's Clear Of Coronavirus? A U-M Prof Weighs In

Apr 22, 2020

Dr. Denise Anthony, professor of health management and policy at the U-M School of Public Health.
Credit University of Michigan School of Public Health / sph.umich.edu

With people getting anxious about going back to work and restarting the economy, a lot of effort is being put into testing for the coronavirus, and one method involves universal immunity testing for antibodies.

WEMU's Lisa Barry talks with Dr. Denise Anthony, a University of Michigan professor of Health Management and Policy at the School of Public Health, about a possible “immunity certification system" under consideration in the United States and how that might work here.


According to Dr. Anthony, we all want the coronavirus pandemic to be over, so we can safely return to work and social life.  An immunity exemption system holds promise to do just that.  But we have to remember that disease experience is often influenced by social factors such as income, neighborhood, race, and ethnicity.  It was true during the 1918 influenza pandemic, the polio epidemic, and throughout history, and it's just as true today. 

Socioeconomic factors are playing a role in the transmission effects, and deaths related to COVID-19 across the country—in Detroit, New York City, New Orleans—and across the world.  In the United States, without certain protections, such a system is likely to introduce new forms of inequality, stigma, and discrimination that could exacerbate our already unequal experience of economic opportunity and the coronavirus pandemic.

We must ensure that four protections—universal free testing access, economic support, discrimination protections, and privacy safeguards—are in place for such a system to work.

Access to antibody testing should be free and universal with sufficient supplies distributed nationally.  This would help ensure that the accessibility issues of COVID-19 diagnostic testing do not occur with immunity testing.  If access is not free and universal, then privilege would characterize who gets certified and, therefore, exempt from social distancing restrictions.  Considering that working from home is itself a luxury, privileged access to an immunity certification test would be not only unequal.  It would also be less effective in getting everyone (who is immune!) back to the workplace.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu