Immunity passport

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An EU Green Pass in digital format being scanned before entering a bistro in Parma, Italy

An immunity passport,[1] or immunity certificate,[2] health pass or release certificate,[3] (the actual name has many different local variants) is a document, in both paper and digital format, attesting that its bearer has a degree of immunity to a contagious disease.[4] Public certification is an action that governments can take to mitigate an epidemic.[5]

When it takes into account natural immunity or very recent negative test results, an immunity passport cannot be reduced to a vaccination record or vaccination certificate that proves someone has received certain vaccines verified by the medical records of the clinic where the vaccines were given.[6], such as the Carte Jaune ("yellow card") issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), which works as an official vaccination record.

The concept of immunity passports has drawn much attention during the COVID-19 pandemic as a potential way to contain the pandemic and permit faster economic recovery.[7] Reliable serological testing for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 virus is done to certify people as relatively immune to COVID-19 and issue immunity documentation. [8]

History[edit]

An Italian health pass (fede di sanità) for travel during times of plague, 1611
Sample of a certificate, which should inter alia demonstrate immunity to yellow fever caused by illness. It was used for immigration to the United States in the late 19th century.[9]

Quarantine has been used since ancient times as a method of limiting the spread of infectious disease. Consequently, there has also been a need for documents attesting that a person has completed quarantine or is otherwise known not to be infectious. Since the 1600s, various Italian states issued fedi di sanità to exempt their bearers from quarantine.[10]

The International Certificate of Vaccination (Carte Jaune) is a certificate of vaccination and prophylaxis, not immunity. The document has remained largely unchanged since it was adopted by the International Sanitary Convention of 1944.[11] The certificate is most commonly associated with Yellow Fever, but it is also used to track vaccination against other illnesses.

Modern definition[edit]

An immunity certificate is a legal document issued by a testing authority following a serology test demonstrating that the bearer has antibodies making them relatively immune to a disease.

These antibodies can either be produced naturally by recovering from the disease, or triggered through vaccination or another medical procedure.

Reliable immunity certificates can be used to exempt holders from quarantine and social distancing restrictions, permitting them to travel and work in most areas, including high-risk occupations such as medical care.

In the COVID-19 context, it has been argued that such certificates are of practical use to society only if all of the following conditions can be satisfied:[12][13][14][15]

  • Recovered or vaccinated 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

However, some long-standing vaccines recommended by the World Health Organization, [16] such as Meningococcal vaccine, are less than 100% effective and their protection is not everlasting.

COVID-19[edit]

Natural immunity[edit]

People acquire a degree of natural immunity from SARS-CoV-2 virus when they are exposed to a live virus and develop a primary immune response which produces antibodies that can recognize specific COVID-19 variants.[17] As of May 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that more than 90% of individuals establish recognizable antibodies in a period of four weeks after SARS-CoV-2 virus infection. For most people, these detectable antibodies roughly stay for at least 6-8 months which provide protective measures against reinfection.[18] Individuals who develop antibodies against the virus do not guarantee a lasting immunity due to recurrent mutations of SARS-CoV-2 virus that may not be recognized by the previously developed antibodies.[17] Current knowledge about the developing immune response from natural infection with SARS-CoV-2 virus do not specify strong and lasting duration of protection and immunity.[18] The uncertainty of the science behind COVID-19 immunity and the dependency on unknown conditions raises issues on adopting COVID-19 immunity certificates.[17]

It has been argued that the primary difference is that vaccination certificates such as the Carte Jaune incentivise individuals to obtain vaccination against a disease, while immunity passports incentivise individuals to get infected with and recover from a disease.[19]

Negative-test certificates[edit]

In contrast to immunity certificates, so-called COVID-free certificates assert a person's COVID-19 test result for a short period of time (typically in the range of a few days). In this context, COVID-free certificates link a person's identity to the COVID-19 test result. [20]

International standards[edit]

The Royal Society published a report on 19 February 2021[21] where a lead author of the report, Professor Melinda Mills, Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford said: “Understanding what a vaccine passport could be used for is a fundamental question – is it literally a passport to allow international travel or could it be used domestically to allow holders greater freedoms? The intended use will have significant implications across a wide range of legal and ethical issues that need to be fully explored and could inadvertently discriminate or exacerbate existing inequalities.” The report lists 12 essential criteria for an international standard.

On 12 March 2021, Ecma International announced its intention to create an international standard which prevents counterfeits and protects private data as much as possible in a "Call for Participation on Vaccine Passports International Standardization" [22] that referenced the earlier report from the UK's Royal Society. In August 2021, Ecma International announced revisions to Ecma-417 (Architectures for distributed real-time access systems) relevant to standards for vaccine passports. [23]

An immunity passport may also serve as a vaccination certificate.

In January 2021, Israel announced that all Israelis who have received their second vaccination as well as all who have recovered from infection will be eligible for a "green passport" that will exempt them from isolation requirements[24] and mandatory COVID-19 tests, including those on arrival from overseas.[25] The passport will be valid for 6 months.[25]

Lawmakers in several US states are considered legislation to prohibit COVID-19 immunity passports.[26]

As of 4 April 2021, it is not yet clear whether vaccinated people that remain asymptomatic are still contagious and are thus silent spreaders of the virus putting unvaccinated people at risk. "A lot of people are thinking that once they get vaccinated, they’re not going to have to wear masks any more," said Michal Tal, an immunologist at Stanford University. "It’s really going to be critical for them to know if they have to keep wearing masks, because they could still be contagious."[27]

Digital health passports[edit]

Unlike Yellow Fever where the protection lasts indefinitely,[28] it is not yet clear if, or how often, booster shots need to be given.

Earliest attempts[edit]

In May 2020, Chile started issuing "release certificates" to patients who had recovered from COVID-19, but "the documents will not yet certify immunity".[29] Many governments including Finland,[30] Germany,[31] the United Kingdom,[32] and the United States[33] have expressed interest in the concept. In February 2021, Israel implemented a "green pass" system, which allows those who are fully vaccinated (or otherwise have recovered fully from COVID-19) to eat at restaurants, attend concerts, and travel to other nations, like Egypt, Cyprus, and Greece.[34]

EU Digital COVID Certificate[edit]

EU Digital COVID Certificate (issuing country: Czech Republic)

The EU Digital COVID Certificate (EUDCC), also called the Green Pass,[35] came into force on 1 July 2021 and eases travel across all 27 member states, and additionally Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein.[36]

More than 200 million EU Digital COVID Certificates have been generated.[37]

Greece's prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, had proposed the creation of such a certificate to revive freedom of movement and facilitate free travel for the vaccinated European Union's citizens in the EU and Schengen Area.[38][39][40][41]

A certificate can be issued to a person who has been vaccinated, has recently recovered from COVID-19, or has recently had a negative PCR test.[36] Vaccination certificates are issued to a vaccinated person for any COVID-19 vaccine. Member States have to accept vaccination certificates for vaccines approved by EMA and may decide to extend this also to EU travellers that received vaccine approved by national authority or WHO.[42] According to the EU, children under the age of 6 "should also be exempted from travel-related testing."[43]

The certificate contains a digitally signed QR code and is available on paper or as PDF. Reference software and app source code has been published by the EU.[44] The information from the QR code is CBOR-serialized, signed, zlib-compressed and base45-encoded[45] but is not encrypted and can be easily deciphered with readily available tools, like the German checker app.[46] It contains a unique identifier, name, birth date, issue date, and vaccination/test/recovery information. The data is not centrally stored.

The keys are stored by the issuers, the public keys are also stored in the EU Gateway.

The certificate is only accepted on presentation of matching valid identity documentation.

On 8 July 2021, the EU commission decided to accept Swiss COVID vaccine certificates, making them applicable in the entire Schengen area.[47] The EU certificate is valid in Switzerland too, as it is part of the Schengen Area.

Some EU countries, such as Hungary, started to recognize digital vaccine passports from outside of the EU, including from Kazakhstan. However, those certificates are not applicable in the Schengen area.[48]

On 21 July 2021, French prime minister Jean Castex confirmed that the COVID pass would be required for leisure activities involving more than 50 people, and must be presented at theme parks and concerts as well as cinemas, swimming pools, and museums.[49] The following day, the Italian government announced similar restrictions would take effect August 6, and would apply to an even wider array of activities like spas, casinos, and indoor restaurant dining. "The Green Pass is essential if we want to keep businesses open," Prime Minister Mario Draghi told reporters.[50]

On 31 July 2021, the EU commission decided to accept COVID vaccine certificates issued by San Marino and Vatican City State, making them applicable in the entire European Union territory.[51][52]

On 19 August 2021, the EU commission decided to accept Turkish, Ukrainian and North Macedonian COVID vaccine certificates, making them applicable in the entire European Union territory.[53][54][55] EU certificates also became valid in Turkey, Ukraine and North Macedonia according to bilateral agreements.

Denmark[edit]

Denmark introduced a coronapas on 21 April 2021 which replaced the older MinSundhed (My Health) app, or a paper printout.

Coronapass was a digitally verified immunity passport for all those that had been vaccinated, or with a recent negative test not more than 72 hours old or who had recovered from a previous infection of COVID-19 within the past 180 days. Due to its resident population's high uptake of vaccines, Denmark lifted all its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on 10 September 2021.[56][57]

IATA Travel Pass[edit]

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has proposed a digital app to authenticate the COVID test and/or vaccination status of travellers. In early 2021, it was being trialled by many leading airlines including Air New Zealand, Qantas and Singapore Airlines.[58] In an editorial of Radio New Zealand, the propagandist said it is likely that such a document will become a pre-requisite for air travel to countries where COVID-19 is not prevalent such as Fiji, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.[59]

The IATA Travel Pass app requires a biometric passport and an Android 6.0 (API Level 23) or newer NFC device or an iOS NFC device.[60]

The passport data will be stored in the iPhone Secure Enclave or similar Android hardware.

A test might need to be taken at a partner laboratory. A printed copy of the test might have to be carried. The cost of the test might not be included. The app shows what is required for the trip.

IATA states that the data is not centrally stored.

San Marino National Green Pass[edit]

The certificate contains two QR codes. The first complies with the EU requirements. The second is based on a VeChain NFT.

Switzerland's COVID Certificate[edit]

The Swiss COVID certificate is not provided automatically, it must be explicitly requested to comply with data protection laws.

The certificate is available for people who have recovered, tested negative, or been vaccinated with a vaccine authorized in Switzerland. People under the age of 16 do not need a COVID certificate in Switzerland.

The certificate expires 72 hours after sampling in the case of a negative PCR test. This is reduced to 48 hours in the case of a negative antigen test.

It is interoperable with the Green Pass from the EU. It contains a digitally signed QR code. The certificates are delivered on paper or as PDF. An optional app only available for some Android, iOS, and Huawei devices is also provided by the government to store and manage them (after scan, as the data are not kept in a central system). The source code of the COVID Certificate System will be published for anyone to use.[61] The keys are stored in the national back-end operated by the Confederation, the public keys are also stored in the EU Gateway. If a Swiss certificate is checked with an old version of an EU app it might not work.

Anyone can read the information in the QR code by scanning it with the COVID Certificate app.[62] It contains the data that is readable on the paper certificate (unique identifier, name, birth date, issue date, and vaccination/test/recovery information). The app license specifies that penalties may be applied for abusive use or negligence.

The certificate is only accepted on presentation of matching valid identity documentation. A reduced-functionality certificate, only valid in Switzerland that contains no health data, can be generated with the app after loading the full certificate.

The app will automatically delete revoked certificates. One should anyway be notified by the authorities by other means, which could be only postal, with the lack of the app preventing perhaps an opportunity of getting tested before a check. A new certificate can be requested. It might not be possible to receive a new one by check time or even get tested. Certificates can be revoked or rejected because of name misspellings for example, so they should be checked on reception. As the app is optional, one expects that checking the text is enough. One might lose all copies of a certificate or it might get revoked while one is abroad. It might not be possible to receive a new one there and one would have to get tested to return. Even if one checked the data, there's always the possibility that lots of certificates have to be reissued for security reasons. One should also pay attention to the vaccination plan. It is possible that a new dose would be required which is not available abroad and one would have to get tested before returning. If you don't use the app you won't be able to verify that your certificate has not been replaced with an invalid one without your knowing. If you use the checker app it could be someone else's with the same name and birth date.

It is possible that the authorities keep both the official and usual names of a person. It is not known whether the certificate always refers to the official name, or whether it might not match the identification documents precisely if it's generated using a different usual name. The following might also occur:

  • Modifying the usual name so that it matches the official name exactly might not be reflected in the vaccination IT systems if their databases are not refreshed.
  • It might not be possible to verify that the certificate will be generated precisely before vaccination (the system may fetch the updated name when creating the document)

If a person accepts to release the data, a printed certificate may be provided immediately after vaccination. But it may not be known how long it would take to receive it if one prefers to perform this authorization later.

Showing ID may not be required to attend a vaccination appointment but other checks could be in effect.

UK's NHS COVID pass[edit]

An NHS Covid Pass exists in England,[63] Scotland,[64] and Wales.[65]

The Department of Health has introduced an automated method for Northern Irish citizens who have received both their COVID-19 vaccinations in Northern Ireland to apply for COVID vaccination certification.[66]

United States[edit]

In June 2021, a spokesperson for the EU pointed out that fully vaccinated Americans entering a Schengen nation could present proof of vaccination or negative test to the health authority of the host nation, which in turn could issue a digital EU COVID certificate or Green Pass. A number of US airlines have also encouraged passengers to upload health information before boarding a plane to a foreign destination. Digitally issued certificates have been internationally criticised due to privacy concerns, inequitable access and inconsistent acceptance of different vaccine types.[67]

A representative survey of the US population showed that, prior to the issue becoming politicized, public views on immunity passports were evenly split and the divide crossed, rather than followed, political and ideological lines.[68]

New York state government[edit]

New York state requires professional sports venues that host fans to use "Excelsior Pass" or similar methods to confirm if attendees have received one of the following:[69]

  • a full course of COVID-19 vaccine
  • a negative PCR test within 72 hours
  • a negative antigen test within 6 hours

Small and medium performing arts venues that use Excelsior Pass or other proof of health status are permitted to reopen at higher capacity, in some cases with up to 250% more attendees.[70]

Arguments and controversy[edit]

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.[71][72][73] The proposals were also published in French.[74] The idea became increasingly relevant as evidence of lasting acquired immunity became clear.[75]

Proponents of the idea such as Sam Rainsy, co-founder of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have argued that immunity, whether acquired naturally or through vaccination, is a resource which needs to be used to limit the impact of the pandemic on the global economy. Many people in Cambodia depend entirely for their living on a tourism industry which has been wiped out. Poor countries can also benefit from recording immunological status as this will reduce wastage of scarce vaccines. The immunity passport proposed by Rainsy was effectively adopted in the EU under the name of "health pass".[76]

Ethical concerns about immunity certificates have been raised by organizations including Human Rights Watch (HRW).[77] According to HRW, requiring immunity certificates for work or travel could force people into taking tests or risk losing their jobs,[77] create a perverse incentive for people to intentionally infect themselves to acquire immunity certificates,[77] and risk creating a black market of forged or otherwise falsified immunity certificates.[77] By restricting social, civic, and economic activities, immunity passports may "compound existing gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality inequities."[19] Immunity certificates also face privacy and human rights concerns.[78]

On the other side, it is argued that it would be disproportionate to deprive immune persons – who can neither infect themselves nor others – of their basic freedoms.[14] This general prevention would only be justified as a last resort.[79] Accordingly, Govind Persad and Ezekiel J. Emanuel stress that an immunity passport would follow the “principle of the ‘least restrictive alternative’“ and could even benefit society:[80]

"Just as the work of licensed truckers benefits those unable to drive, the increased safety and economic activity enabled by immunity licenses would benefit the unlicensed. For instance, preferentially hiring immune individuals in nursing homes or as home health workers could reduce the spread of the virus in those facilities and better protect the people most vulnerable to COVID-19. Friends, relatives, and clergy who are immune could visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes."

In some jurisdictions (for example France, Italy and Canada) where immunity passports were introduced for COVID-19, vaccine uptake increased.[81][82][83][84][85] However in some jurisdictions (like Israel and the United Kingdom), certificates may have resulted in a lower inclination to accept COVID-19 vaccines and may thus have a counterproductive effect on immunisation rates.[86][87]

An opponent of immunity passports in Britain has suggested that, to understand the dangers of Covid passports, one should simply imagine an obesity equivalent. In a Daily Telegraph opinion piece, Sir Charles Walker MP wrote:

"The Government should not let its drive for health certification stall at Covid-19 passports. If it is serious about saving lives and promoting personal responsibility then it must target the avoidable and identifiable disease of obesity....It is an inescapable fact that a great many hospital beds, doctors and NHS resources have been absorbed over the past year by the clinically obese... It is clear that by sucking resource away from deserving illnesses and social causes, the obese kill those of a healthy weight. But at last change might be possible. In the same way that people will soon have to prove their Covid status, we could also be at the stage where technology could be deployed to monitor people's obesity status. Such a breakthrough would finally allow the state to restrict the overweight's access to certain dining facilities and high-calorie foods. Upon entering a restaurant, the business could scan a mobile phone app that showed your BMI. Those within the healthy range could order what they wished off the menu, while the overweight could be restricted to ordering size-limited portions. As for the obese, they could be asked to settle for a salad or simply invited to leave. For takeaway orders, companies such as Just Eat or Deliveroo could use the same data, taken over the telephone, to weed out the obese from placing a fast-food order. In supermarkets, your BMI status could be scanned at checkout, with fatter customers having certain foods removed from their baskets or replaced with healthier options."[88]

Several US states, including South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Florida, Texas and Arizona,[89] have banned the use of COVID-19 immunity passports.[90][91]

In April 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) advised against the use of mandatory COVID-19 vaccine passports for travel, citing ethics and efficacy concerns.[92][93][94] In February 2021, the position of World Health Organization (WHO) on requiring proofs of COVID-19 vaccination for international travel purposes remains against on using this as a condition for departure or entry. [95]

Reliability and Quality of Tests[edit]

The extent of protection of the vaccine for the emerging new variants of COVID-19 is not yet well understood. [96] For a reasonable policy approach for quality the scientific reliability of tests, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that there should be an established minimum duration of immunity, reliable indicators of concentration/quantity antibody, and accurate availability of tests to ensure that the results are within satisfactory levels. The setting of the threshold of tolerable error is a responsibility of the government, not the private companies to avoid conflict of interest.[8]

Ethical and Social Issues[edit]

The ethical issues that arises in the acceptability of immunity certificates revolves in the policy objectives and the intended use.[8] The public health restriction on implementing immunity certificates limits the freedom of an individual to perform social activities. [96]For people who are concerned about the economy and business, issuing immunity certificates would be beneficial because it prevents severe consequences of recession. For many people who recovered from COVID-19 or vaccinated, having a COVID-19 immunity certificate will help them get back to their normal lives. For the people who cannot get the vaccine or not immune, issuing immunity certificates create unfairness and discrimination. [17] Implementing COVID-19 immunity certificates will not justify people who are neither at risk of getting infected of COVID-19 nor contagious.[97]

Existing social disparities in the society is likely to be affected by imposing COVID-19 vaccination certificates. People who are privilege to receive the vaccination will have gained access to going back to normal life while low-income populations will remain disproportionately low on vaccinations which hinders their social privilege to go out.[96] The religious people and/or people who refuse to get vaccinated have also restricted on their liberties.[96]

Malware[edit]

Fake messages[edit]

Can direct the user to visit a malicious site.[98]

Fake QR codes[edit]

A number of attacks are possible if they are scanned with a vulnerable application.[99]

Fake wallet apps[edit]

A sideloaded app could steal data or be other form of malware.[98]

Fake checker apps[edit]

In some cases, it may be possible to create a (semi) working checker app that also siphons data.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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