Controversial “immunity passports” debated as COVID vaccine is launched

The concept of an “immunity passport” that verifies inoculation has been floating around for some months now, the first prominent public example being an announcement by Qantas that proof of vaccination would be required for international flights. The idea of ​​proving that a COVID vaccine has been received to access public and private spaces, according to a report from the MIT Technology Review, is being hotly debated by a wide variety of government and business organizations.

There has not yet been any proposal that people “show papers” to move freely or access services, but the issuance of vaccination receipts in some areas (such as Los Angeles County, the hardest hit) has raised concerns that are adopted as * de facto immunity passports *.

COVID Vaccine Launches Amidst Storm of Trouble

COVID vaccine distribution in the US has been plagued with logistical problems and confusion about how to prioritize recipients, and is far from being at a level where an immunity passport system could be seriously considered. Still, there seems to be a lot of interest in both government and private industry.

The only thing that looks like immunity passports at the moment is a reminder notice that is issued after the first of two doses of the COVID vaccine is administered. This card – which is now available digitally in Los Angeles and sent directly to smartphones – is issued solely for people to keep track of when they should return for their second dose. It is possible to obtain a certificate of vaccination for international travel after receiving both doses, but there is currently no national application for these records.

Proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test is required to travel to many countries today, including the US starting this month. Some countries are also allowing documented exposure and recovery testing as a surrogate, as there is a growing body of evidence that COVID-19 immunity persists for a long time once developed. But there has been little real discussion anywhere about limiting domestic travel or access to vital services to those who can demonstrate some form of immunity.

Proponents of large-scale national immunity passports point out that vaccination records are already required for many things, such as going to school and working certain jobs, and are already required for international travel to combat diseases like yellow fever. . Critics respond that they are established vaccines that have been tested and used for many years; The two COVID vaccines currently available use mRNA technology that has never been used before in the general public, and that neither government nor private enterprise should be in the business of forcing people to take what is essentially a Experimental drug that has not been subjected to standard safety testing standards.

Many other problems with immunity passports.

Even if there was broad public support for requiring that people get vaccinated to move around in their daily lives, something that seems unlikely to materialize, the question of how to establish a verification standard would arise. Immunization records are maintained at the state level and are subject to a variety of different state laws. There is no central federal clearinghouse for such records. In some rural areas, patient care facilities still communicate fully by fax. The COVID pandemic could well resolve itself naturally in the time it would take to find viable answers to all these personal data transfer and authorization issues.

There is also the question of strengthening any such digital identity system against false results; A black market has already emerged for the negative test results required to fly between certain countries. MIT reports that several big names in technology and medicine, including IBM and Microsoft, are looking to build a centralized system based on a singular verifiable credential to address this possibility. However, any such system would require entrusting personal health data to a private entity, at a time when big technologies are not particularly popular for their data handling practices. It would also require connecting thousands of healthcare systems that have no prior relationships and are governed by a variety of different laws. Current COVID vaccine dose reminders issued by Los Angeles County would not function as immunity passports, as they are easily replicated and almost impossible to verify their authenticity.

And that’s before we get to the series of ethical concerns and potential legal conflicts that arise. Private companies are likely to be legally shy about participating unless the government makes vaccination mandatory, which is exceptionally unlikely. At present, there are also large categories of people (mainly children and pregnant women) who are advised not to take any of the existing COVID vaccines as there is not enough safety data for them.

There is also the possibility of creating a perverse incentive to become infected with COVID-19 to avoid being limited in movement and access to job opportunities. This scenario could develop if distributed doses of the COVID vaccine remain inadequate to meet demand; Wealthy and connected people can get in first, pressuring the less fortunate to build immunity by playing with exposure.

IATA is developing # blockchain-based immunity passports, while WHO is investigating a similar electronic vaccination certificate, both for international air travel. #respectdata

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So far, efforts to obtain immunity passports appear to be developing independently, either by industry or by individual organization. For example, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is developing blockchain-based immunity passports specifically for travel, while the World Health Organization (WHO) is investigating a similar “electronic vaccination certificate.” These projects are currently scheduled to be used for international air travel only, and each country’s contact tracing system will assume responsibility upon arrival.


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