Scientific, ethical, legal and practical issues of immunity passports must be addressed before they become a reality

The concept of an immunity passport is under scrutiny and it is crucial that the underlying scientific, ethical, legal and practical issues must be addressed before they become a reality, says GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Urte Jakimaviciute, MSc, senior director of market research, commented: “Even though immunity passports could help the world economies to reopen, there have been reports from countries such as South Korea and China of patients who tested positive after recovering from COVID-19. While the antibody testing will play an important role in the fight against COVID-19, as it can measure the spread of the disease, it may not guarantee the complete suppression of the virus.

“Immunity passports may lead to a risk of prolonged transmission due to people being less cautious after receiving a positive antibody test result, to heightened legal concerns such as medical data sharing, or to create social implications such as inequality and health status–based discrimination.”

Although the immunity passport idea is still in its infancy, it is gaining popularity in countries around the world. Despite the warning coming from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the lack of evidence that people who have overcome COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection, Chile is set to become the first country to launch the immunity certification scheme to people who have recovered from COVID-19; while countries such as Germany, the UK and the US are also eyeing the utility of the immunity certificates.

Jakimaviciute adds: “Businesses are quick to recognize the profit potential and provide possible solutions when opportunities arise. Blockchain, biometrics and artificial intelligence are among top technologies showing promise to facilitate implementation of the immunity passports. For example, tech experts from the UK’s Open University have developed a digital blockchain-based application to certify COVID-19 immunity test results, ensuring privacy and data control concerns. Companies such as Onfido are working on adapting facial recognition technologies to potentially facilitate the creation of immunity passports.

“While the idea of immunity passports is controversial, they can provide a safer way out of lockdowns. The technology could help to overcome the legal and practical issues related to the use of immunity passports. Nevertheless, the social and ethical implications will be more difficult to work through.”

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