Immunity passports? Why the idea is unreliable and bad for travel?
As COVID-19 spread its wings into the world, it clipped the wings of the flyers. People were forced to stay indoors and global travel came to a full stop. Countries shut their borders and halted all international flights to and from their nations. People started talking about immunity passports and that they should be implemented on all travelers. But research has shown that these passports are a bad idea and totally unreliable. Here is the reason why!
Immunity and COVID-19 infection
Like the other viruses of the 21st century, the immunity in a host due to COVID-19 remains ill-understood. Studies carried out on those who had the coronavirus infection have revealed that immunity and protection do not follow a similar course. People who died or suffered from a severe infection had higher levels of antibodies in their blood compared to those who had mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. So antibodies in coronavirus infection do not seem to be protective!!!
A new Chinese study has shown that the antibodies to COVID-19 fell sharply within an interval of 2-3 months in both the symptomatic as well as the asymptomatic patients. Therefore, immunity if any in the coronavirus infection is not lifelong. The researchers studied 74 patients (37 symptomatic and 37 asymptomatic) and found out that the IgG antibody declined more than 90% in 2-3 months’ time in them.
WHO cautions against the use of immunity passports
On 24 April 2020, after talks about immunity passports made headlines, WHO issued a cautionary statement. It stressed that the accuracy of such certificates cannot be guaranteed. The statement said:
“There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection”
But where do politicians listen to sane medical expert advice? The USA, the UK, Germany, and other nations are already floating the unreliable idea. China and Chile are also joining this unscientific bandwagon!
Besides the unproven immunity, the tests to analyze the antibodies are also unreliable. There could lead to a significant number of false-positive and false-negative results. Also to test the thousands of travelers globally is unfeasible. The disease prevalence has also been low, as low as 2-3%. This means that very few could be tested as able to return to work or travel!!!
Ethical reasons for having no immunity passports
Besides the medical reasons cited above, there are some ethical issues as well which could make such monitoring and classification of people unjustifiable. The process would erode one’s privacy. This could easily lead to forgery and targeting of marginalized groups. The poor may not be able to get access to the tests leading to injustice. Such a societal stratification based on COVID-19 status is unfair. These passports could also pave the way for passports with more biological data such as mental health details. This could lead to further discrimination.
Once people with the immunity passport have access to better amenities, those with no such passport may try to acquire the infection in order to have the passport. This would be a threat to public health.
Therefore, one cannot use biological data to segregate people. It would endanger freedom, privacy, fairness, and public health.