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What is an Immunity Passport?

On-Site Staff

May 25, 2020

Governments are currently considering implementing requiring “immunity passports” to allow those with antibodies against COVID-19 to return to work and travel.

This assumes that a positive antibody test means prolonged immunity against COVID-19. However, there is insufficient evidence at this point to assure that this is true. It is likely that having antibodies give some immunity and more testing will lead to more answers on the details needed to implement this on a large scale.

Ethicists argue that requiring a positive antibody test for individuals to resume normal life, including work, may have unintended consequences. First, this may lead individuals to behave differently in regards to safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When people believe they are immune to COVID-19, they may stop wearing masks or may start traveling and may end up getting COVID-19 if the antibody test gave a false positive or if the antibodies did not last, or the levels of the antibody were not high enough. Secondly, this may lead to people trying to get COVID-19 so that they are allowed to return to normal life. Third, there is a chance for injustice due to fewer medical resources for testing available for those with lower socioeconomic status. Therefore, not permitting those to travel without antibodies can result in more problems.

Additionally, without understanding the length and level of immunity needed, having possible immunity that lasts less than the amount of time needed to achieve herd immunity may not ultimately be protective. A study of four coronaviruses that cause the common cold demonstrated a significant decrease in immunity after six months. Experts estimate that without a vaccine, it may take 18-42 months to achieve herd immunity. To have a better understanding of how immunity to COVID-19 works, more research, and more COVID-19 antibody testing is needed.

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Kirkcaldy, R. D., King, B. A., & Brooks, J. T. (2020). COVID-19 and post infection immunity:
Limited evidence, many remaining questions. Journal of the American Medical Association, E1-E2. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.7869

Moore, K. A., Lipsitch, M., Barry, J. M., & Osterholm, M. T. (2020). COVID-19: The CIDRAP viewpoint. Retrieved from

Phelan, A. L. (2020). COVID-19 immunity passports and vaccination certificates: scientific, equitable, and legal challenges. The Lancet, 395(10237), 1595-1598.

Persad, G. & Emanuel, E. J. (2020). The ethics of COVID-19 immunity-based licenses (“Immunity Passports”). Journal of the American Medical Association, E1-E2. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.8102

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