Immunity passports help to certify that you’re risk-free after recovering from COVID-19, and countries are considering this to resume international travel.
Immunity passports are one of the core pillars that the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is looking to lean on in its efforts to restart the aviation industry, and so are the US, UK, Germany, Italy, and Chile. Chile, in particular, looks to be the first to implement immunity passports, as it hopes to return to “normalcy” as soon as possible.
Guides to Resuming International Travel:
#1: Which Country Can I Travel to Now?
#2: Which Airlines Are Resuming Flights?
#3: Future of Air Travel After COVID-19
#4: When Can We Travel Again: 2023 Forecast
#5: Immunity Passports to Resume Travel
#6: Can Singaporeans Travel to Brunei & New Zealand?
#7: How Airlines Are Wooing You Back Onboard
#8: Post-COVID-19 Travel Habits
#9: How Tech & AI Are Helping to Reignite Tourism
#10: Singapore-Hong Kong Travel Bubble Guide
#11: Everything You Need To Know About Singapore’s COVID-19 Vaccinations
#12: Travel Corridor vs Travel Bubble: Everything To Know About Flying
🛂 What Are Immunity Passports?
More specifically, what is a COVID-19 immunity passport? It looks to be a digital or a physical certificate which certifies that you have the antibodies as a result of recovering from COVID-19.
The Washington Post reported that Paula Daza, an undersecretary in Chile’s Health Ministry, said the 4,600-odd people who have recovered from COVID-19 will be eligible to receive immunity passports. They also reported that other applicants will be tested for the antibodies to see if they’re eligible or not, and that the immunity passports will be issued to those with a very “high probability” of being non-contagious. Whether this extends to those who are negative in the first place, remains a question to be answered.
🔧 Immunity Passports Are a Band-Aid Fix to a Larger Problem
Scientists and healthcare professionals aren’t convinced that the immunity passport is a reliable indicator of both antibody testing as well as its supposed claims of immunity.
Hannah, who did not want her surname to be revealed, is a 24-year-old registered nurse who has dealt with many COVID-19 patients.
“I still think quarantine is very much necessary, because we’ve been seeing news that there’s secondary incidences of infection,” she says.
Reuters reported in April 2020 that South Korea had seen 116 reinfected cases of COVID-19. Upon investigation by the Korea Centers for Disease Control in May 2020, it was found that patients were likely shedding noninfectious or dead virus particles.
Still, Hannah remains unconvinced. “You never know what happens in the plane or who’s got the virus in the airport.”, she adds. “It’s not like chicken pox or other diseases which we’ve already developed a vaccine for.”
She has a point. Scientists say that, in order to develop the antibodies needed to combat COVID-19, you have to be infected by it in the first place. For most people who are negative, this seems to be the only way until a vaccine arrives.
😐 Ethical Problems Arise Too
Dr Alexandra Phelan, a member of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University, writes in The Lancet that “by replicating existing inequities, use of immunity passports would exacerbate the harm inflicted by COVID-19 on already vulnerable populations.”
She opines that governments might see this as a band-aid fix for economies to restart, which could ultimately see them fail to adopt and implement economic policies to protect health and welfare.
🚪 Another Doorway to More Data Breaches in the Future
To issue these immunity passports, governments and healthcare authorities must collect personal data about the patients, be it location for contact tracing or people they’ve come in contact with, among many others.
San Singh, 27, a data analyst, says, “Having all of it in a database is good, because then you can find patterns.”
“But if someone [malicious] gets their hands on it, they can target those people and discriminate. It’s a constant battle. Eventually people will find a way to hack and then you have to upgrade again.”
He points towards the past cases of the SingHealth and HIV data breaches that happened in 2018 and 2019 in Singapore, respectively. In both cases there were malicious actors involved, looking to expose innocent individuals for their own nefarious motives. In the case of the SingHealth data breach, Channel NewsAsia reported that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s data was targeted.
According to the Center for Internet Security, the average cost of one’s personal health information is US$363 (~S$505.70). In comparison, one’s personal credit card information goes for only US$2 (~S$3.40) on the black market. The reason for this? One’s personal health information can’t be changed, unlike credit cards.
🙋 Immunity Passports aren’t the Answer, But a Vaccine is
It seems like immunity passports create more problems than it solves, and the only surefire way for people to travel again like they used to is for a vaccine to be developed and released to the masses.