COVID-19 Immunity — There will be an app for that

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues (Visualizing the History of Pandemics) several application development projects and consortia are underway to develop an Immunity passport on mobile devices (“immunity apps”, “immunity certificates”) where the bearer can demonstrate having undergone a successful medical test for antibodies of a virus.

However, in context of COVID-19, there is a rub: having antibodies might not create immunity against COVID-19.

And, most important, there is a whole list of ethical issues that might arise that counter the benefit of an immunity app significantly.

The following resources provide you an overview of various aspects and might help you decide if and when to trust, when to download and when to use an immunity app.

The resources below are only a starting point and new resources and reports will appear as the situation develops.

Testing

Vaccine

Immunity Apps and Consortia

Larger initiatives are underway as well, like COVID-19 ‘Immunity Passport’ Unites 60 Firms on Self-Sovereign ID Project and Covid Credentials Initiative.

A first app survey appeared: Tech vendors work on apps to certify your COVID-19 immunity.

Contact Tracing Apps

Personal note: while immunity apps will most likely build in a challenge mechanism where the bearer can prove that he is who he says he is (addressing the situation where the phone is handed off), the tracing apps will have to find a way as well to prove that the owner of the phone (or the person carrying the phone) has immunity (or is infected). Otherwise the fact that phones met is meaningless as it is unknown who carried a phone when it met another one.

The Rub

The WHO in a Scientific Brief emphasizes that there is no evidence that antibodies provide immunity: “Immunity passports” in the context of COVID-19. The WHO’s Scientific Brief is discussed in the press, e.g., Coronavirus: Immunity passports ‘could increase virus spread’.

Another critical discussion is here: Is it too soon for a “CoronaPass” immunity app?

Ethical Issues

  • Risk of people being forced to take tests or lose job
  • Risk of people intentionally infecting themselves to acquire immunity certificates
  • Risk of creating a black market of forged or otherwise falsified immunity certificates

In addition, there is a risk of misuse of an immunity app for other purposes than its goal of demonstrating possessing antibodies (or immunity).

Do we need an Immunity App? Yes — Eventually

Immunity, most likely, cannot be provided for everybody at the same time. I expect it to be a process over a period of time. During the roll out, there will be people have have immunity, and those that don’t have immunity. To establish safety for all, an immunity app will help in this period.

The Future

What can YOU do?

  • Stay safe!
  • Contribute articles and resources on all aspects of COVID-19 to immunity-certificates for everybody to benefit from

Acknowledgements

Disclaimer

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