Earlier in the year, online speculation about digital “immunity passports” were treated as conspiracy theories, but now the World Health Organization (WHO) is mandating digital immunity passports to allow people who receive the coronavirus vaccine to travel internationally.
However, there are concerns that the so-called immunity passports could result in societal inequality and could normalize digital “good citizen” passes.
“We are looking very closely into the use of technology in this COVID-19 response, one of them how we can work with member states toward an e-vaccination certificate,” the WHO's program manager for vaccine-preventable illnesses in Europe Siddhartha Datta said.
The UN's health agency, in collaboration with Estonia, began a pilot project to test a digital vaccine certificate in October. The idea behind the “smart yellow card” is to support cross-border data tracking and enable the WHO COVAX project that will make vaccines available to poorer countries.
According to the UN's health department, antibodies in people who have recovered from the virus should not qualify people for the immunity passports. Therefore, the WHO discouraged member states from issuing immunity passports to people who have recovered from COVID-19 and added that nations should not allow cross-border traveling based on testing.
Dr. Datta also warned that technological initiatives such as digital vaccine certificates should provide effortless border-crossing without overwhelming the nation's current responses to the pandemic, adding that these initiatives should consider varying laws.
While the development of immunity passports has kicked off in some countries, including the UK, because they promise international travel resumption, some experts are advising against them.
Many are concerned that immunity passports could violate human rights and privacy.
“Digital health passports may contribute to the long-term management of the Covid-19 pandemic, but their introduction poses essential questions for the protection of data privacy and human rights,” said Dr. Ana Beduschi, who authored a report by researchers at the University of Exeter warning about the potential problems that could result from immunity passports.
“They build on sensitive personal health information to create a new distinction between individuals based on their health status, which can then be used to determine the degree of freedoms and rights individuals may enjoy,” she added.
Dr. Beduschi was also concerned that immunity passports could make the existing societal inequalities and dwindling civil liberties worse.