Immunity passport

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An immunity passport, also known as an immunity certificate, recovery certificate or release certificate, is a document attesting that its bearer is immune to a contagious disease.[1] The concept has drawn much attention during the COVID-19 pandemic as a potential way to contain the pandemic and permit faster economy recovery.[2]


Immunity certificates are a legal document granted by a testing authority following a serology test demonstrating that the bearer has antibodies making them immune to a disease. These antibodies can either be produced naturally by recovering from the disease, or triggered through vaccination. Such certificates are practical only if all of the following conditions can be satisfied:[3][4]

  • Recovered patients have protective immunity that prevents them from being reinfected
  • The protective immunity is long-lasting
  • The pathogen mutates sufficiently slowly for immunity to work against most strains
  • Immunity tests have low false-positive rates

If reliable immunity certificates were available, they could be used to exempt holders from quarantine and social distancing restrictions, permitting them to work (including high-risk occupations such as medical care) and travel.


As of May 2020, it remains unclear if any of these conditions have been met for COVID-19.[3] On April 24, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) 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'".[1]


In 1959, the WHO created the International Certificate of Vaccination (Carte Jaune) as a certificate of vaccination, particularly for yellow fever.[5] However, these are certificates of vaccination, not immunity.

An early advocate of immunity passports during the COVID-19 pandemic was Sam Rainsy, the Cambodian opposition leader. In exile and under confinement in Paris, he proposed immunity passports as a way to help restart the economy in a series of articles which he began in March 2020 and published in The Geopolitics and The Brussels Times.[6] [7] [8] The proposals were also published in French.[9]

In May 2020, Chile started issuing "release certificates" to patients who have recovered from COVID-19, but "the documents will not yet certify immunity".[10] Many governments including Finland,[11] Germany,[12] the United Kingdom,[13] and the United States[14] have expressed interest in the concept.

Ethical concerns[edit]

Ethical concerns about immunity certificates have been raised by organizations including Human Rights Watch (HRW).[15] According to HRW, requiring immunity certificates for work or travel could force people into taking tests or risk losing their jobs,[15] create a perverse incentive for people to intentionally infect themselves to acquire immunity certificates,[15] and risk of creating a black market of forged or otherwise falsified immunity certificates.[15] By restricting social, civic, and economic activities, immunity passports may "compound existing gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality inequities."[16]


  1. ^ a b ""Immunity passports" in the context of COVID-19". World Health Organization. April 24, 2020. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  2. ^ A. Chotani, Rashid; Ashraf, Syed S.; Mize, Charlie; Clark, Terry (April 30, 2020). "'Immunity passport' key to containing spread of coronavirus". UPI. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Altmann, Daniel M; Douek, Daniel C; Boyton, Rosemary J (April 2020). "What policy makers need to know about COVID-19 protective immunity". The Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30985-5. PMC 7185915. PMID 32353328.
  4. ^ Cyranoski, David (4 May 2020). "Profile of a killer: the complex biology powering the coronavirus pandemic". Nature. 581 (7806): 22–26. doi:10.1038/d41586-020-01315-7. PMID 32367025.
  5. ^ "International certificate of vaccination or prophylaxis". World Health Organization. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  6. ^ The Geopolitics, How to Prevent COVID-19 From Paralysing the World’s Economy, March 27, 2020
  7. ^ The Brussels Times, Immunity Passports: A proposal to revive tourism, international trade and transport April 12, 2020
  8. ^ The Geopolitics, International Immunity Passports Can Help Restore Freedom of Movement, April 8, 2020
  9. ^
  10. ^ "In reversal, Chile says coronavirus release certificates will not prove immunity". Reuters. April 29, 2020. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  11. ^ Mutanen, Annikka. "Suomalaiset tutkijat kehittivät vasta-ainetestin, joka paljastaa, kuka on jo sairastanut koronaviruksen". Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish). Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  12. ^ Day, Joel (April 1, 2020). "Coronavirus breakthrough: Germany roll outs promising antibody test to end lockdown". Daily Express. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  13. ^ "Britain looking at COVID-19 immunity certificates but more research needed". Channel News Asia. April 3, 2020. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  14. ^ Kristine, Lofgren (April 10, 2020). "Anthony Fauci Says Government Is Discussing Immunity Cards For Coronavirus Survivers". Inquistr. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  15. ^ a b c d Roth, Kenneth; Sparrow, Annie (April 28, 2020). "Should People Without Coronavirus Antibodies Be Second-Class Citizens?". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2020.
  16. ^ Phelan, Alexandra L (May 2020). "COVID-19 immunity passports and vaccination certificates: scientific, equitable, and legal challenges". The Lancet. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31034-5. PMID 32380041.