The idea of issuing “immunity passports” to individuals with covid-19 antibodies continues to attract both interest and controversy. Estonia and Chile are both moving forward with plans to test their own immunity-passport programs, and top infectious disease expert Anthony S. Fauci says U.S. officials have discussed the idea too. The private sector is likely to beat the federal government to the punch. Start-ups like FaceFirst and Onfido are pitching the idea of app-based immunity registries to businesses, several Miami hotels are reportedly rolling out an immunity app with their staff and guests next month and Delta Air Lines has expressed interest as well.
The backlash against these “passports” has been swift and strong. The World Health Organization quickly advised countries against issuing any such certificates until there is clearer evidence that antibodies protect against reinfection. The American Civil Liberties Union has cautioned that immunity passports could accelerate a trend toward mass surveillance, while the head of Human Rights Watch warns that immunity passports could give rise to a “new form of discrimination.”
Immunity passports are unlikely to be the panacea that their proponents imagine, but nor need they be a one-way ticket to a dystopia in which passport holders roam freely and everyone else is locked indoors. If deployed wisely, they could protect vulnerable individuals from infection and help high-contact businesses reopen; if used carelessly, they could speed the virus’s spread.
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