Immunity passports are medical confirmation that allows those with immunity to pass through countries with health restrictions.
Immunity Passports are a form of documentation that demonstrates various vaccines or immunities that a traveler has received. Unlike a paper passport, an immunity passport won’t say where you’ve been but rather what you won’t bring into another country. However, like a paper passport book, the contents of your passport may determine where a traveler may enter and where they may not.
Some forms of immunity passports may be digital as opposed to an actual paper document. Carrying a recent negative COVID-19 result may act as one such document now.
Why We Need Them
We should know who and what is coming into the country. If a country allows infected people to enter, regardless of what they are infected with, they should know what is being allowed to enter. When you think about it, we actually have more paperwork and stricter regulations for passengers bringing fruit in from an American-operated airline than we do for people carrying communicable diseases.
We already follow something similar in paper form. Some countries require proof of vaccines though almost all of these are for Yellow Fever. In fact, until 2010, the United States restricted entry for travelers infected with HIV/AIDS. The Immigration and Nationality Rule of 1952 put the following into place:
“The medical reasons barring entrance to the United States included mental health disorders, substance abuse, epilepsy, tuberculosis, leprosy, or “any dangerous contagious disease.””
Immunity passports would re-open the world to “qualified” visitors.
President Trump this week discussed excluding those with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 including legal residents and US citizens. In order to avoid potential exclusion from entry (under the concept discussed), US-arriving passengers may have to be able to prove they are COVID-free to avoid further scrutiny or exclusion.
Why We Don’t Need Them
To first revisit the point from above, we already tried restricting those who were infected with a disease from entering the US. As a country, we rescinded that rule. Partly because it wasn’t safe for the traveler because they would try to conceal the disease potentially causing themselves harm. It was also an invasion of privacy.
“The removal of the immigration and travel ban on HIV-infected persons was a monumental step in eliminating the exceptionalism of HIV and reducing stigma and social barriers for those living with HIV. On an individual level, it allows for safer travel for people living with HIV/AIDS; no longer do they need to consider leaving behind essential medications for fear of disclosure.”
Every piece of information is already transmitted with our without our express consent. The chip in our passports display information when scanned by our own government and others. I was once turned away at a border over a misunderstanding. I was sure to disclose it when asked at another border because I knew the agent at Immigration already knew it took place. Had I not disclosed it, I could have been turned away for concealing the event. It’s not a stretch to assume that other details could be included in our passport chips and the only thing that could be done is to not travel abroad at all.
Countries in Asia have had temperature checks mounted at Arrival Halls for more than a decade. Every time I move through Hong Kong I pass by a temperature check station. We have never been flagged, but if I or my family had a fever, it’s possible we may have been subject to denied entry or further examination. We consent to this by getting off the plane in many countries in Asia but continue to visit all the same. Similar temperature check stations in the US could serve the same purpose without requiring immunity passports.
Is there no privacy left? HIPAA was a law passed to protect the privacy of US citizen’s medical information. The act was put in place to keep the medical history of an individual person private. Unfortunately for those who value the privacy benefits of the law, HHS has suspended or chosen not to enforce violations of HIPAA’s privacy elements for the purpose of COVID-19. Have we, as a global society, suspended all considered elements of privacy due to COVID-19?
Even the WHO finds the tests that define immunity and confirmation of the disease to be so spotty that the organization recommends against the use of immunity passports.
Some countries have made entry available to Americans subject to a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours, such as Croatia, or a positive result for antibodies. Barbados will also welcome Americans with the same conditions. But I am not sure that COVID-19 warrants such privacy invasions. I am also unsure of what doors are opened once global citizens consent to such requirements. Do we return to prejudices about those who have or have had diseases; things that the HIV/AIDS community fought so hard to reverse? Is this different?
What do you think? Should we carry immunity passports? If so, what diseases should it list, and what are the limitations? If not, why not?