Immunity passports, fundamental rights and public health hazards: A reply to Brown et al.

By Iñigo de Miguel Beriain and Jon Rueda Etxebarria

In a recent article published by the Journal of Medical Ethics, Brown et al. analysed several ethical aspects around immunity passports and put forward some recommendations for implementing them. When we first read this paper, we considered that it was an excellent piece of analysis, but at the same time, thought that it was suffering from the kind of shortcomings that make most papers about immunity passports incomplete. Indeed, it engaged mainly from a societal perspective that considers that immunity certificates are mainly conceived to control citizens or to promote privileges among immunized people. Instead, in our response article, we chose to focus on the perspective of immune people, bringing their individual fundamental right to the forefront of the debate. We analysed the question of whether a person who has tested positive for and recovered from COVID-19, most probably becoming immune to it, might be included in or excluded from a possible prospective curtailment of their freedom due to a new outbreak.

Moreover, we also decided to include in our paper another interesting issue: the fact that once vaccines are available, vaccine certificates will de facto generate a sort of immunity passport. Therefore, it made sense to consider whether the consequences of two different sources of immunity (i.e. vaccination and recovering from the disease) might have different ethical and legal consequences or not.

The main conclusion of our proposal is that in the next phases of the pandemic, different immunity statuses will be at stake, because the need to identify who can spread COVID-19 is unavoidable. If a person does not pose a threat to public health because they cannot spread the infection, then their right to freedom of movement should be respected, regardless of how they acquired that immunity. Thus, in our view, public policy should be indifferent to the cause of immunity to COVID-19, unless future scientific evidence shows otherwise by raising substantial differences between one type of immunity and the other.


Paper title: Immunity passports, fundamental rights and public health hazards: a reply to Brown et al.  FREE PAPER

Authors: Iñigo de Miguel Beriain1,2 and Jon Rueda3

Author affiliations:

  1. Derecho Publico, UPV/EHU, Bilbao, Spain
  2. Ikerbasque, Bilbao, Spain
  3. Department of Philosophy 1, University of Granada, Granada, Spain

Competing interests: None declared.

Social Media: @ruetxe

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