13 Million Americans Eligible For ‘Immunity Passports’

Iceland and Hungary welcome people who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months. This makes a lot more sense than welcoming people that have tested negative in the past 72 hours. A recent negative test doesn’t mean someone is free of the virus at the time they arrive. But someone that’s recovered from the virus probably doesn’t have it and can’t spread it.

Hungary has already been welcoming visitors who can show a positive test within the past six months and a subsequent negative test, indicating they’ve had the virus and have recovered.

Iceland plans to accept proof of a positive test that’s at least 14 days old, but they will require the test come from a European lab. There are talks to expand Iceland’s exemption to Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway.

Iceland also exempts people who have had the virus already from their nationwide mask mandate – potentially creating an awkward situation where some people have to wear them, others do not, and it’s costly and cumbersome to sort out who falls within each camp.

There’s been a great deal written about immunity following Covid-19 recovery, and we don’t know how long it lasts, but we do know that it appears to be robust. With perhaps a billion people on the planet having been infected with SARS-CoV-2 (though lab-confirmed diagnoses are much lower), there have been only a handful of reported re-infections.

Often those involve an original infection with the earlier ‘D’ strand of the virus followed by infection with the ‘G’ strand, re-infection of an immuno-compromised person, or an asymptomati case. And again, these are rare – anything involving a billion instances will have outliers.

And while antibodies may not be detectable for more than a few months, there’s generally still a robust t-cell response to the virus. The body makes more antibodies when re-exposed.

To be sure this doesn’t mean with certainty that a person cannot carry and spread the virus at all after they’ve recovered. And we still do not know how long immunity lasts, though it’s likely more than a year in most cases (and might be much longer).

While the science is far from ‘settled’ that’s also true with respect to pre-travel testing, and what amount to immunity passports are probably safer given what we know at this point.

Perhaps 120 million Americans have been infected with the virus, but just 15 million of those have had their infections lab confirmed, only a majority of which have had those confirmations in the past six months.

There are limited travel options for those people at the moment – acceptance into Hungary with a subsequent negative test. And for some their six month window will time out before other companies copy the process. But the large number of Americans testing positive now may soon have a travel option, prior to access to vaccination.

(HT: God Save The Points)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @john – the article you cite acknowledges that reinfection is rare, as I mention in the post, and we do not disagree that there is no certainty that past infection means an inability to spread in the future – I write that explicitly in the piece.

  2. I would prefer a vaccination passport than an “I forgot about social distancing and masking in the last 6 months” passport. May as well positively reenforce the right behavior.

  3. @Andrew – What a disrespectful thing to say about the 10s of millions of people that have had COVID, myself included. Just because someone has gotten sick does not mean they forgot “about social distancing and masking in the last 6 months”. Not everyone that has had COVID is an anti-mask COVID denier. Some of us did everything we were supposed to do.

    Stop shaming people who become sick. You mentioned reinforcing positive behavior, well shame and stigma will only lead to people avoiding being tested and infecting other people.

  4. @john CAN and WILL are two different things. Its this kind of fear-mongering that stupefies society. You CAN get struck by lightning, but the chances that you WILL are close to zero. There is no certainty for nearly anything in life. You want certainty stay in your home with a helmet on.

  5. @Gary I find no results in my search that the CDC ever said that only 1 in 8 Covid cases have been diagnosed. Even if so, if that quote (which is not found in a Google search) early in the infection with less testing would no longer been valid. To be sure there are more cases than diagnosed with an estimated 40% asymptotic but x8 seems not mathematically probable (perhaps x2 or a bit more) I appreciate your miles advise and personal follow through and am a fan, but I think you have no good source for your x8 number and weakens your argument and credibility. If you are going to claim that more than 1/3 the US population has had Covid you need an source and a date of that source.

  6. @Gary, In the post you state explicitly: “But someone that’s recovered from the virus probably doesn’t have it and can’t spread it.” That directly contradicts your later statement that “there is no certainty that past infection means an inability to spread in the future.”

  7. Can’t we all be thankful that President Trump and his leadership under Operation Warp Speed is getting us the vaccines that the experts said would take 12-18 months. COVID will slip into the history books and we can await the next pandemic…….

  8. @Nathan – 100% agree with you! People like Andrew are a-holes who think they’re so righteous, until they get infected themselves. What we need is less shaming and more compassion.

  9. I wrote they PROBABLY can’t spread it, which based on the science is true, and then note that we do not know this “with certainty.” There is no contradiction in that.

  10. @Paulz. Trump’s leadership couldn’t organize a pissup in a brewery and had nothing to do with the pFizer vaccine. Except, of course, saying “no thanks” when pFizer offered to sell us enough for the entire country.

    Good riddance to that incompetent whiny baby.

  11. @Paulz
    The Pfizer and Oxford vaccines were nothing to do with Operation Warp Speed: they are European-designed vaccines which have reached fruition rapidly because of the urgency of the situation and the unique commercial opportunities created. For Pfizer this could be more lucrative than Viagra.

    The US government has been a relieved bystander, except they chose not to buy enough of the Pfizer product which has now been sold to multiple other countries which unlike the USA were prepared to pay for earlier delivery slots.

    It is still uncertain when it indeed whether international travel can resume. We don’t yet know whether vaccination or indeed infection guarantee that the individual will not import the vaccine into a new country. Until we know, the successful countries like Australia and New Zealand will have to keep their borders closed.

    I’m a doctor in Australia and I’m due to be vaccinated in around 8-10 weeks time. But I’ve already been advised that the borders will remain closed until at least 6 months after universal vaccination.

  12. Incidentally, I should add that here in Australia there is debate at national government level as to whether when borders are reopened:

    1. Travel to/from countries which have achieved less than 70-80% vaccination would be absolutely banned – which in practice means “travel to and from the USA may be banned for many more years to come”.

    2. Whether travellers arriving from countries which have achieved 70-80% vaccination would need to provide proof of personally receiving both halves of the vaccine course within the previous 12 months. (This is significant because the UK is struggling with organisation and is talking about mixing and matching which vaccine any person receives. People who have had 1 Pfizer dose and 1 Oxford dose would be considered vaccinated in the UK, but would be considered unvaccinated here.)

    3. Whether people who have been infected are banned from entering the country for a period of 3, 6, 9 or 12 months after infection.

  13. I have a hard time believing that 1 in 4 people in this country have been infected, Gary. I think that’s a wild stretch of the imagination. No, I am not a virus denier. I am just saying I find this to be completely off the wall. If that was the case we would be close to herd immunity and cases would not be rising at the levels they are right now.

  14. @Stuart – wild stretch? 20% – 40% of cases are *asymptomatic*, many people don’t get tested and for much of the pandemic there hasn’t been enough testing – during the peak of Covid in my home town our positivity rate was 37%, in South Dakota it was around 50%

  15. @DavidF

    That’s absurd. I guarantee you Australia will be opening its borders well before “six months after universal vaccination,” and will not be closed to Americans for “many more years to come.”

    Australia’s economy will be absolutely crippled if tourism and business travel are banned for any substantial period of time beyond next spring/summer, especially as other countries with currently closed borders will be opening to travelers who are properly vaccinated (regardless of the overall level of vaccinations in their countries) and Australia is not going to want to be left behind. I guarantee you Australia will do the same thing.

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