News Flash: Growing Support for Immunity Certificates

Experts consider how best to identify people who can’t infect others with COVID-19

The U.S. government is contemplating issuing “certificates of immunity” to people who have sufficient antibodies to prevent them from being infected by COVID-19, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and key member of the Trump Administration’s coronavirus task force. “That’s possible,” he said in an interview with CNN. “It is one of those things that we talk about when we want to make sure we know who the vulnerable people are and not. This is something that is being discussed and I think actually it might have some merit under certain circumstances.”

To support the development of immunity passports, more than 60 organisations have come together to form the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative, which plans to develop a digital certificate that “lets individuals prove (and request proof from others) that they’ve recovered after testing negative, have tested positive for antibodies, or have received a vaccination, once one is available.”

The group is using the W3C’s Verifiable Credentials industry standard as a blueprint, which means “within a matter of weeks, healthcare facilities and COVID-19 testing services could start issuing digitally-signed credentials about a patient’s COVID-19 status directly to their smartphones,” according to a blog post by Evernym, one of the companies participating in the initiative. “This certificate could contain no personally identifiable information—meaning privacy and confidentiality can be preserved at all times—while still providing strong cryptographic proof that the credential belongs to that person.”

Experts have warned that such certificates will be economically very valuable and could become targets for fraud which could result in unnecessary deaths, if potentially infectious people are allowed to circulate freely in society. “Trust is paramount in such a system,” noted Jason Lim a Washington, D.C.-based columnist for the Korea Times. “Therefore, the immunity passport system has to be designed in such a way that it conveys absolute confidence that the holders are who they say they are and are entitled to this ‘all clear’.”

To watch the CNN interview click here, to read about the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative click here or here and to  read the Korea Times article click here.