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Immunity Passports For Those Who Recover From COVID-19? Bioethicists Have Serious Doubts

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Could a special type of COVID-19 immunity passport pave the way for some people to return to work, or travel?

Several countries are experimenting with so-called immunity passports. CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey on Wednesday dug into whether or not the U.S. will be one of them.

Indeed, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is at least looking into the proposition. But bioethicists said there are serious scientific and social qualms.

As antibody testing becomes more widely available, some countries are considering asking people to carry proof that they're immune.

In April, Chile launched an immunity card program. In May, Estonia launched a digital version, specifically for businesses.

So where does Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases land on the proposition?

"This is something that's being discussed," Fauci said. "I think it may actually have some merit, under certain circumstances."

So could it be a ticket to return to normal life? Dr. Kelly Michelson, the Director of the Center of Bioethics and Medical Humanities at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, says not so fast.

"With the level of knowledge that we have, I don't think it would be very responsible," Michelson said.

Dr. Michelson argues that from a scientific standpoint, there isn't enough evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection.

Beyond that, there are serious social ethical qualms.

"You'd have to get the test, so unless it's given free to all 330 million people in the country, you'd see that people with more resources would be more likely to get the test," Michelson said.

So while other countries are testing the waters when it comes to these kinds of passes, Dr. Michelson argues it isn't in line with the science.

"I don't think that's a very scientifically-based approach, so I think we should be the leaders about how to approach this challenge using the facts and the science," she said.

Historians say there is a precedent in the U.S. dating back to the 19th century, involving yellow fever – where immunity led to social hierarchy in some places.

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