As countries consider immunity passports, WHO warns against them

WASHINGTON — Several countries are considering using what’s known as an immunity passport or an immunity-based license to indicate if someone has recovered from COVID-19 and is now immune to the virus.

An article with the Journal of the American Medical Association said Chile, Germany, the United Kingdom and others are looking into using these certifications.

The World Health Organization has warned against immunity passports because it says there isn’t enough evidence to know if someone is protected from a second infection after they have recovered from COVID-19.

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"We don't know if that antibody response actually means that they're immune. These studies are currently underway,” said Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 technical lead for WHO. "We're also concerned about the use of such a certificate because it may mean that someone who has the certificate will not adhere to public health measures that they need to continue to adhere to."

Some medical experts said the certificates can have benefits if the science can prove immunity, as many health experts said is likely.

According to the JAMA article written by Dr. Govind Persad and Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, “Immunity-based licenses have the potential to help realize important values, including enhancing the liberty of individuals who have been infected with COVID-19 without worsening the situation of those who have not been infected.”

The article said the immunity passports could benefit society “by allowing immune people to engage in economic activity, and protecting the least advantaged by allowing safer care for vulnerable populations … While immunity-based licenses require careful implementation and scientific support to be ethical in practice, nothing makes them unethical in principle.”