Are COVID-19 Immunity Passports Ethical?

Yellow Fever International Certificates of Vaccination are currently required by some countries
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World Wide (Vax Before Travel)

Since COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures considerably curtail people's freedom, would ‘immunity passports’ offer more freedoms to international travelers?

‘If we have the technology to decide who is not a risk, we should use it,’ stated researchers in a study published by The Lancet on October 16, 2020.

The specific scenarios in which immunity passports can be used will depend on the nature of the immunity generated. 

Immunity passports might be desirable to record individuals, especially those who have pre-existing vulnerabilities, who have been identified as having a correlate of immunity that reliably indicates that they will not contract the severe disease in the future. 

Alternatively, ‘if immunity passports certify that individuals can move around freely and interact for business or leisure without increasing the risk of transmission, we might wish to certify only those who are unlikely to transmit the virus.’

Although there remains considerable uncertainty regarding the nature, degree, and duration of immunity to SARS-CoV-2, the world's intense research focus on this infection will potentially yield useful answers in a practicable timeframe that could be translated into some form of immunity passport, said these researchers.

Even after a correlate of protection is established, there will still be uncertainty around the duration of protection or whether the correlate can be applied across all ages and clinical scenarios, but complete certainty might not be necessary for policy in the medium term.

Assuming that developing scientific evidence supports the use of immunity passports, safety nets must be put in place to protect individuals who remain in lockdown and are the most disadvantaged by lockdown (eg, those who are unable to work, socially isolated, or at risk from domestic violence). 

Similarly, officials must take seriously the need to ensure fair access to testing and to address the inequality that arises in the context of COVID-19 through targeted solutions.

‘We must be clear about what the alternatives are when evaluating the merits of different ways of tackling this pandemic. The choice is not between returning to a normal life versus issuing immunity passports.’ 

‘Instead, the choice is between periodic lockdowns, attempting to emerge from lockdowns with immunity passports, and attempting to emerge from lockdowns without immunity passports.’

‘Immunity passports are a potentially valuable and ethical tool.’ 

As further evidence relating to the immune response to COVID-19 accumulates, and the capacity to reliably identify immune individuals develops, immunity passports could be appropriately adopted.’ 

‘In such an event, the freedoms these passports confer must be subject to amendments and cancellations, and integrated with other measures, such as contact tracing and physical distancing, to keep people safe while maintaining quality of life,’ concluded these researchers.

These researchers declared no competing interests, and the views expressed are their own. This research was supported by the Wellcome Trust (WT 104848/Z/14/Z and WT 203132/ Z/16/Z).

Some countries around the world currently require a certificate showing you have been vaccinated before you're allowed entry. This is known as an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis.

As an example, the UK enables travelers to check the country information on the TravelHealthPro website or with a yellow fever vaccination center to see if you need a certificate for the area you're visiting.

And on October 7, 2020, the WHO and Estonia agreed to collaborate on developing a digitally enhanced International Certificate of Vaccination, a “smart yellow card” to help strengthen the equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.

Vax-Before-Travel publishes research-based news.