Germany secures Roche antibody tests but ethics questions remain

May 4, 2020

After securing millions of the antibody tests from Swiss drugmaker Roche, Germany is awaiting advice from its ethics council in terms of using the tests to help determine how freely people can move.

Today, Germany announced a deal with Roche to get 3 million of the blood tests in May and 5 million monthly thereafter. Roche’s tests won U.S. FDA-approval over the weekend and the company plans to boost production to more than 100 million each month by the end of 2020. Roche recently announced it will invest $459 million in its Penzberg, Germany site, to both boost antibody test production and create a new diagnostics research and development center.

The presence of antibodies detected by blood tests such as the ones provided by Roche may indicate whether a person has been infected with the novel coronavirus and thus may have developed some level of immunity. In theory, this could entitle the individual to move more freely than those testing negative.

Germany is among a handful of countries exploring the idea of using such antibody-based "immunity passports" to re-open, despite the fact that questions still remain over whether antibodies really confer immunity.

Germany Health Minister Jens Spahn said his coalition government had asked the German Ethics Council to consider how such a program could fulfil its aims while still respecting people’s rights.

Read the Reuters coverage