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What the COVID-19 “Immunity Passport” Is

By Madeleine McCarthy

Stamford, Connecticut

Natural antibodies and the vaccine likely offer similar protection (Photo Credit: Information Age)

Countries like Hungary and Iceland are among the first countries to implement COVID-19 “immunity passports.”

These travel protocols in Hungary and Iceland allow people who have had COVID-19 to enter the country and even be exempt from the national mask mandate. These policies are dubbed “immunity passports,” meaning those who have tested positive for the virus antibodies will be protected from the virus for some time. However, experts emphasize that the duration of this immunity is unknown.

It is likely that the International Air Transport Association will mandate a digital travel pass in which passengers will confirm that they’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine once it is more widely available. Multiple airline companies, such as Qantas, a leading Australian airline, have already supported the idea of proof of vaccination before boarding a flight. Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, suspects that these vaccination requirements will be common around the world, saying that “it's going to be a common theme across the board.”

A test program will begin in British Airways within these next few months. Passengers will likely be able to share their COVID-19 vaccination status on mobile phones via a QR code within the first few months of 2021.

There is already some conversation about whether people who already have contracted the virus and have immunity through antibodies will be treated the same as those who have gotten the vaccine. While there is much uncertainty, it is likely that natural antibodies and the vaccine offer similar protection, with the vaccine being slightly stronger.

There are also ethical concerns being brought up with the idea of “immunity passports.” In the UK, for example, they uphold a tenet called informed consent, expressing that a person has to give consent for treatments, tests or examinations, according to the UK National Health Service. Some doctors fear that the idea of “immunity passports” undermine the principles of personal privacy and informed consent.

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