‘Immunity Passports’: Will or Will Not Trend in the Digital Health Sector?

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries are in complete or partial lockdown to contain the spread of the disease. The entailing economic slowdown, if persisted, would lead to dire consequences. WTO, in their press release, predicted a 13% to 32% fall of economic activity in 2020. The historic drop in crude oil prices is also pointing towards the decline in economic activities. In addition, the International Labor Organization (ILO) in their press release predicted that around 1.6 billion people working in the informal sector (around half the global workforce) could lose their jobs in 2020. This could lead to some serious economic, political, and societal consequences. In such a scenario, governments are in a fix, whether to extend lockdowns or bear economic consequences.

Immunity Passports

Immunity Passport: Is it the Solution?

Some of the countries such as Chile, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States are considering issuing immunity passports to individuals who have immunity against the virus. According to some news articles, the United Kingdom government purchased over 3.5 million in-house finger-prick antibody tests. The tests determine whether the blood sample has coronavirus antibodies. The presence of antibodies, suggests that the person was infected with the virus and is now immune to it. However, such as a person won’t get the virus again is still debatable.

WHO’s take on Issuing the Immunity Passport

WHO is currently not in favor of issuing the immunity passport, which can be implied by their scientific brief released on 24th April 2020. They stated that “At this point in the pandemic, there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate.” People who assume that they are immune to a second infection because they have received a positive test result may ignore public health advice. The use of such certificates may, therefore, increase the risks of continued transmission.“

Other Challenges

In addition to the risk of the immunity passport holder being infected again, there are various other challenges for implementing the concept. For example, there might be a burden of the application process, corruption, lack of diagnostic testing, and, most importantly, a sudden rise in the spread of the disease.

Blockchain Technology to backup the Immunity Passport

Considering all the challenges, if the governments found a plan to implement the passport, there are technologies such as blockchain that can come handy. The greatest benefit of blockchain technology is that it creates transparency in the transactions and can be trusted. Immunity passport being a very sensitive document, creating trust is of utmost importance for the issuing authorities. Hence, many organizations are trying to find ways to bring in the most robust form of immunity passport. Some of the developments happening related to the issue are listed below:

  • The COVID-19 Credentials Initiative (CCI) is working on a digital certificate, using the recently approved World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Verifiable Credentials standard. The certificate lets individuals prove (and request proof from others) they’ve recovered from the novel coronavirus, have tested positive for antibodies, or have received a vaccination, once one is available.
  • Tech experts from The Open University (OU) developed the world’s first digital application to certify COVID-19 immunity test results. Developed from blockchain technology, the app provides verification and privacy while ensuring that end-users remain in complete control of their data.
  • SICPA’s Certus technology, provided to the French government in the framework of a trial launched by the Defence Ministry to combat Covid-19, aims to allow all consenting persons who have had an approved test to detect the virus or antibodies, to receive a certificate from an authorized body showing the result of the test, in a digital, but printable, format which cannot be falsified and is universally verifiable.
  • Canadian startup Emerge is launching Civitas, a software that uses blockchain to track and manage stay-at-home orders by local authorities around the world.

The idea of implementing immunity passports is currently facing many challenges. However, countries are desperate to kick start their economies, hence finding ways to issue immunity passport at least to bring in the partial workforce to resume their work. When policies related to the immunity passport are set, there is a likelihood of blockchain technology witnessing potential prospects.