Doctor seeks immunity passport for Covid-19 recovered

Chennai specialist proposes immunity passport for those recovered from Covid-19

With barely any sign of Covid-19 reinfection in the past eight months, a leading Indian doctor has reached out to the World Health Organization and the Prime Minister’s Office with a proposal to consider issuing an “immunity passport” for easy travel of lakhs of people who got the infection and recovered.

Since such individuals developed immunity against Covid-19 and pose no risks to others, an immunity-linked travel certificate would allow them to move around freely to contribute to economic development, argued Abdul Ghafur, a Chennai-based specialist on infectious diseases, associated with Apollo Cancer Institute.

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For over a decade, Ghafur played a key role in red-flagging the menace of antibiotic resistance in Indian hospitals, compelling the government to frame an antibiotic policy for the clinical establishments and change the rules governing the sale of OTC medicines.

On Covid-19, Ghafur’s idea is based on the fact that nowhere in the world, there been any large-scale reporting of reinfection ever since the novel coronavirus 2019 arrived on the world scene in December 2019. The first case in India was reported in January.

“More than six months after the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, there have been no confirmed cases of reinfection. There are a few anecdotal reports of a handful of potential cases of reinfection (or reactivation). At least for now, reinfection is not a serious concern. If reinfections were a significant problem; by now, we could have had hundreds or at least tens of thousands of cases of reinfection at the global level,” he wrote in his letter.

Ghafur’s prescription is to issue immunity-linked travel certificates for three or six months for people who tested positive on RT-PCR test – the gold standard in Covid-19 testing – and cured. India currently has more than 14 lakh such patients and the numbers are increasing.

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"As against an earlier proposal to the WHO to allow immunity passports on the basis of antibody tests, my idea is to permit a travel document on the basis of RT-PCR tests that are more reliable. The certificate would be for people who tested positive, were in quarantine or home isolation for the stipulated period and got cured,” he told DH.

“Since the governments have the list of PCR positive patients, they can easily issue Covid-recovered certificates with a validity of three to six months. Based on the presence or absence of significant and genuine reports of reinfections in the future, we can revoke or extend these certificates.”

Of course, even people with such a certificate would have to travel following social distancing norms, practice hand hygiene and wear masks.