Why the immunity passport idea should be permanently dropped

We are amid a pandemic, but holiday-goers and tourist industries are already wondering what international travel could look like in the following months and years. With countries fighting to keep infections down within their borders, reopening borders will undoubtedly be a delicate process.

New Zealand, already celebrating no new COVID-19 cases, is considering creating a “travel corridor” with Australia, and after that possibly Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea. But an outbreak in any part of the bubble could result in a breaking down of the corridor’s purpose to keep the virus out.

Credit: Taiwan Ministry Of National Defense/EPA

One possible answer making its rounds in the media is that of “immunity passports.” These documents would identify if someone is “immune” to the virus by having previously contracted COVID-19. The concept is riddled with problems, though. Here is why immunity passports would be an unforgivable mistake.

  • We don’t know if anyone is immune to the virus

Although those infected by COVID-19 produce antibodies to fight the infection, it does not mean they are immune. The WHO recently stated in a scientific brief that there is currently no evidence people who have recovered from the virus are protected from being infected again.

  • Testing is not perfect

Early research indicates that tests produce false negatives up to 30% of the time. Even as this number dramatically decreases, there will still be some people who test negative when there are remnants of the virus in their body.

  • Infection cannot be encouraged

Such initiatives could encourage people to infect themselves to gain the freedom to travel, which would have obvious repercussions on public health and hamper the ultimate goal – to keep infections down.

  • Public health measures must apply to all

Those who have an immunity passport could be given the false impression that they are free from the constraints the virus is putting us under. This miscalculation may lower their chances of listening to public health advice, which is essential to limit the spread of the virus.

You can read the WHO’s scientific brief on immunity passports here.

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