6 Reasons An “Immunity Passport” Isn’t Going To Work For Travel

Once there’s a vaccination we’ll likely have to demonstrate that we’ve taken it in order to be accepted for entry in many countries. However merely showing that you’ve had the virus and therefore qualify for an ‘immunity passport’ Delta CEO Ed Bastian gave a nod to in his airline’s earnings call aren’t going to work.

You shouldn’t go out of your way to get infected so you can travel when you recover because having had the virus isn’t likely to make it easier to travel.

  1. While it’s presumed that those who have had the disease will retain some immunity, this isn’t yet proven definitively, something WHO just reminded us of.

  2. If there’s immunity what level of viral infection is necessary to achieve and sustain it? Will all asymptomatic cases have it?

  3. What level of antibodies do we need to show in testing to demonstrate immunity? We have no idea.

  4. If there’s immunity how long does it last, so how long should this passport be valid for?

  5. There are cases where people test negative for the virus but it’s not actually gone, or symptoms have been gone for over a month yet keep testing positive for the virus, what are the qualifications to get a passport exactly?

  6. There’s some indications of multiple strains of the virus, even if we demonstrate there’s some immunity and have a sense of how long it lasts (and what level of antibodies are necessary to achieve it) does that immunity apply across various strains and mutations?

You won’t be able to get an immunity passport any time soon. Temperature checks won’t get us traveling soon, because of asymptomatic spread. And even testing prior to boarding a flight may not do it because of the high rate of false negatives from tests – everyone may test negative for the virus, but some number of people would still enter a country carrying it.

To get back to traveling we need health care capacity and personal protective equipment to grow to handle infections, we need systems in place to identify and isolate people with the virus and quarantine their contacts, and we need better treatments to improve patient outcomes and reduce the length of hospital stays.

We do not need a vaccine to travel again. Widespread availability of a vaccine is probably two years away even if it’s developed in a year, since it has to be manufactured and distributed at massive scale. However a gimmick like an immunity passport, given our limited knowledge of the virus right now, isn’t likely to get us back in the sky.

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. Mass travel wont return without a major treatment, or a vaccine. Stop fooling yourself saying that it will.

  2. Disclaimer- China is the puppet master of the W.H.O..
    Prior to the Wuhan flu, 10s of thousands were dying from the flu every year.

  3. Average time to development of a vaccine is 20 years. They are among the safest pharmaceuticals in the world because of extensive clinical trials (you’re giving a drug to a healthy person to prevent a disease, so risk benefit ratio must favor safety). It’s not just that a vaccine brought hastily to market might not be effective; it might be dangerous. Of course, with the attention of some of the top researchers in the world brought to bear on the problem, there’s always hope. Liability relief will have to be addressed though. The anti-vaxxers are already steamed up.

  4. If the WHO is accurate that there are no protective antibodies (doubtful), it’s highly unlikely that there could ever be a vaccine! I think they call that “science.” 🙂

    There are still too many people playing for Team Apocalypse, but the reality is that we’re dealing with a virus about 3x more deadly than flu. That’s now the scientific consensus, that is slowly creeping into the public policy realm (it complicates matters for those who have invested in lockdowns). If you’re old and with pre-existing conditions, it’s more than that. If you’re under 50, it’s far less than that (the science isn’t yet sure if COVID-19 is LESS dangerous than the flu for under 40s).

    Given the scientific reality, people will get more comfortable just living their lives — like they do with all sorts of other diseases, like flu. We’re also likely to get helped by some sort of herd immunity. Once people get comfortable living their lives, they’ll get comfortable travelling. And things like “Immunity Passports” will seem like silly ideas.

  5. Spot on. There will never be a vaccine because it mutates too quickly, just like a cold virus. Years later after the SARs1 outbreak, there still is not a vaccine for it. Also, if you have the MMR (Mumps/Measles/Rubella) vaccine, many people are testing positive when they never did have COVID-19/SARs-2. Rubella virus makes up 23 % of the COVID-19/SARs-2 virus and most of the current antibody tests for COVID-19/SARs-2 will register positive because of the Rubella antibodies present in some who are tested.

  6. To chopsticks — You are wrong on almost every point. Israeli scientists released data several days ago that show differently, including the ability of some to catch it twice. This virus replicates well at 140 degrees Fahrenheit and only dies after being at 190 degrees for 15 minutes (Also, in their findings.)

  7. @chopsticks, I am generally with you, but just a minor correction,WHO has not said that there are no protective antibodies, only that it has not been proven that having it once provides immunity. That will actually never be “proven”. No matter how many times people who have had it get exposed again and don’t contract it, there will always be the possibility that someone will get it a second time. And it is ethically unacceptable to actually try to prove it because you would have to expose healthy people to a known disease. That is unethical and is simply not done.
    You are correct that if natural exposure and recovery does not provide immunity, then it is extraordinarily unlikely that a vaccine could ever be found.

  8. And yet the entire country of Chile is instituting immunity passports as we speak. I guess we’ll find out if it works or not. Many scientists think the immunity passport is likely to be the future.

  9. @chopsticks. +1.

    Also, I particularly agree with Chopsticks implication that WHO’s pronouncements are pretty much a joke.

  10. @ Gary I am surprised that you under estimate the value politicians place in gimmicks. The war on water and the rest of airport security theater is proof of that.

  11. There are billions of dollars at stake now with the global travel economy. Absolutely, positively there will have to be an implementation of some kind of “policy” to ensure the world starts moving around again. We cannot continue hiding out in our bubbles, indefinitely. Whether it is something like the Yellow Fever card, or a laminated ID–and whether it shows 30% efficacy or 95% efficacy–it will ensure a sense of security among travelers, albeit a false pretense of security.

  12. When thinking about re-starting commercial aviation, perhaps we should first focus on flying from safe points to safe points. International flights should only go to or through safe countries. In other words, why would anyone want to fly through the UK or the U.S. Not sure how that would practically work for flights within the states.

  13. What is this W.H.O. you keep mentioning?

    Oh, I know. It’s the Wuhan Health Organization.

  14. i’m hopeful that we can get back to a semi normal world with ‘herd immunity’ of some sort, Sweden has some optimistic results using that model, and they will be more robust economically and physically as a result.

    It’s hard to trust or put too much faith into an immunity passport as there seems to be too much misinformation around reinfection, If anyone is interested, I wrote an article on that topic here:

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