Are Health Passports the future?

COVID19 has wreaked havoc, causing death and severe illness, disrupting educational systems, employment and our way of life. Globalisation has become so embedded within today's society; that the restriction of movement and travel has created huge polarisation.  Many agree that there needs to be a balance between safety and risk. A proposed solution by many is the implementation of immunity passports, which would prove your medical status in return for permission to once again attend mass gatherings, go to the office, visit entertainment venues, attend sports events, or travel abroad [1].

Early on in the pandemic, many already asked WHO on the possibility of an ‘immunity passport' or a ‘risk-free certificate', which would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection. At the time, WHO expressed concerns regarding the effectiveness of the antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an ‘immunity passport' [2].

However, a year on and people still believe this to be a viable solution to reset back to normal. Trailblazers such as IBM have already begun piloting with the IBM Digital Health Pass [3]. Based on IBM Blockchain technology, the Digital Health Pass is a mobile application and does not store information centrally to ensure data security. Instead, a QR code is displayed in the application, which is then presented to a verifier. This QR code is then scanned to see if the person's credentials match the verifier's requirements, such as whether or not they have had a recent COVID-19 test or are vaccinated [2,3].

These ideas have already received a lot of pushback, as people have perceived this as an infringement on rights. But is it really so radical? A large number of countries located in Africa and Central and South America require the yellow fever certification for entry [4]. Public health bodies recommend the vaccine, as a single dose provides lifelong protection for most people. The same holds for Tuberculosis [5]. Why is it such a huge problem when the Global North is now expected to proceed with the same caution and care?

On the 1st March 2021, President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced the presentation of a legislative proposal for the Digital Green Pass [6]. The aim of the pass is to provide proof of vaccination, results of a test for those who couldn't yet be vaccinated and information on COVID19 recovery. It was also noted that the pass would respect data protection, security and privacy [6].

Many scholars have however, rightly pointed out, ‘created by the rich, for the rich'.  An immunity passport powered by digital technologies would further increase the existing disparities, create an even wider gap between the global south and north, poor and rich, sick and healthy.  So we must ask ourselves, is this really the way to go? Does it not infringe on human rights? Is it indeed ethical? What do you think?


Share your thoughts and join discussions via our Blue Table Webinar coming up on 24 March 2021, focused on ‘Ethics and the Pandemic'. Click here for more information and registration!



Mrs Nefti Bempong-Ahun 
Assistant Editor
Communications Assistant, 







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