While cases of the Coronavirus continue to grow in many countries, this means that the number of people with Coronavirus antibodies is also growing. As the world looks to reopen travel and business, tracing the spread of the virus and checking individual’s immunity are keys to controlling future outbreaks. However, there’s no clear answer for how to do this. One possibility that government, health, and tech leaders are exploring is immunity passports, a physical or digital document that would show that an individual has tested positive for Coronavirus antibodies.
The idea of immunity passports isn’t new in the travel world. In fact, many countries have long been requiring foreigners to present immunization records before entering. For instance, travelers entering Ghana, or many other African countries, must present a valid proof of immunization against yellow fever before passing through immigration. What makes the new idea of a COVID-19 immunity passport unique is that there is no vaccination available yet. However, individuals can be tested for COVID-19 antibodies, a sign that they’ve had the disease and that their bodies are prepared to fight it again.
One of the key concerns raised by global health experts over these types of passports is that they don’t know enough about the disease yet. Doctors have discovered Coronavirus patients who have fallen ill more than once, which means that just having the antibodies may not be enough to suppress the spreading of the virus. Even once medical experts know more about immunity, testing for the virus and antibodies may still be limited. Unless everyone has equal access to testing and applying for immunity passports, this idea would pose a lot of questions about equality and fairness.
Another concern that’s been raised about immunity passports is the division it would create in society. Those with the passports would have more freedom to work and travel. In turn, this could drive more people to seek out the virus, hoping to get the antibodies. For those without risk factors, the idea of becoming exposed to the disease would be an advantage, as they could most likely survive it, get the antibodies, and receive more freedoms. However, unlike “chicken pox parties,” the intentional spread of the virus could increase the pandemic.
If immunity passports were to become a reality, there are multiple ways they could be distributed. The simplest form would be a health certificate from a doctor, but some organizations are developing apps, QR codes, and other tech solutions. Having personal health information stored electronically in a way that could be accessed by employers or immigration officials has the potential to cause privacy issues. Before the general public would feel safe with these passports, they would have to know who could access the information and how it is shared.
While Coronavirus immunity passports sound like something out of a sci-fi story, they have both the potential to help countries reopen and the potential to create divisions in society. Before advocating for them, it’s important to give doctors and health experts the time to fully understand the virus. Rather than using these passports as a quick, and potentially risky, way for politicians to reopen countries, they should be examined more closely.
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