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There are ‘immunity passports’, but are they a bad idea?

Could it seem counterintuitive that instead of needing a negative COVID-19 test to cross international borders, you can offer proof that you previously tested positive? However, these “passport immunity” policies already exist in certain countries, operating on the assumption that, once infected and recovered, a person cannot contract or carry the virus again.

It is the premise for a new test and quarantine exemption rule in Iceland that will take effect on December 10. Under standard requirements, international travelers entering Iceland must complete 14 days of quarantine or take two COVID-19 tests, the second administered five days. after arrival, and the test will be negative both times to leave isolation.

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Under the new provision, foreign visitors will be exempt from these requirements if they can provide proof that they have already had COVID-19 and have recovered. According to CNN Travel, Icelandic border authorities will accept documented evidence of a positive COVID-19 PCR test that is at least 14 days old or an ELISA test (which measures antibody levels) issued by an approved European laboratory.

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Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in many different species of animals, including camels, cattle, cats, and bats.

CNN reports that Hungary had adopted a similar waiver in September, although the country has not released any information on the success or failure of the policy, what science its decision was based on, or the pros and cons it might have weighed earlier. implement it.

Hungary also seems an unlikely candidate to have authorized such an unusual loophole, considering that its borders remain closed to almost everyone, including its European neighbors, and its government openly displays hostility towards migrants. However, reports indicate that the exemption from the ‘immunity passport’ does not appear to be widely used and has not been talked about much, even in Hungary.

Many experts have reportedly raised concerns about the ethics and security of “immunity passports”. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed to CNN last week that it has not changed its position of advising against them, which it established in April. An excerpt from their scientific report at the time read: “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.”

But eight months have passed since then and our collective understanding of the behavior of the virus has continued to evolve.

“Certainly, it is theoretically possible that some people, even those with antibodies, are not protected,” Dr. Ania Wajnberg told CNN outside her laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “But I think that most people who test positive for antibodies will be protected for some time.”

Wainberg herself is leading a study of more than 30,000 people who experienced mild to moderate cases of COVID-19. Their latest findings, published in October, said that 90 percent of the subjects had enough antibodies to protect themselves against reinfection of the virus for many months, if not longer.

Iceland’s chief epidemiologist Thorolfur Gudnason cited similar findings that have emerged from his country’s own research and studies abroad. “I think it’s pretty safe. I mean, everything we do has uncertainties. Nothing is 100 percent,” he told CNN.

Proponents of the “immunity passport” concept believe it could become fashionable once vaccines are available. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), along with other organizations, has the ability of travelers to get vaccinated in the near future to restart the trip effectively. Its proposed digital ‘Travel Pass’ is intended to allow travelers to safely store and provide proof of inoculation and / or COVID-19 test results.

Rebecca Brown, an ethicist at the University of Oxford, believes that people who have recovered from the virus should be considered the same as those who have been vaccinated. Despite her skepticism, Carmel Shachar, an expert in bioethics and health law at Harvard University, agreed: “There is actually a positive benefit to treating them the same way. We don’t want to waste vaccine doses, it will be a while before we have enough vaccines for absolutely every human being on the planet. “

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