Do Australians support ‘Immunity Passports’ in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Josh White, Paul Garrett, Simon Dennis, Daniel Little, Amy Perfors,
Yoshi Kashima, Stephan Lewandowsky*
University of Melbourne
University of Bristol*

New research from the Complex Human Data Hub indicates that 54.5% of Australians show either no or little support for the Australian Government instituting ‘immunity passports’ in response to the COVID-19 pandemic once they have considered the impacts of such a policy on Australia. Indeed, 25% of Australians do not support immunity passports at all.

An 'immunity passport' indicates that you have previously had COVID-19 and are likely to be immune to the virus. Possessing an immunity passport would allow you to move freely among the community with exemption from government social distancing policies because you would be unlikely to infect others.

While an immunity passport policy is yet to be proposed by the Australian Government, the idea is gaining traction internationally. Policy makers in the UK and Germany are considering immunity passports as part of a strategic plan to return citizens to normal daily activities and allow for economic recovery, but there are possible downsides that must be considered.

The introduction of immunity passports may create different ‘classes’ of citizens with different rights. Immunity may vary with biology, affecting some communities more than others, and may incentivize people to deliberately self-infect to secure greater freedoms. Increasing social mobility will also make the enforcement of social distancing policies much more difficult.

In our recent investigation, we asked a nationally representative sample of 1,500 Australians whether they would support the introduction of COVID-19 immunity passports by the Australian Government. Participants responded twice: once immediately after learning of the hypothetical policy, and once after being asked questions that prompted them to consider the effects of such a policy on the Australian public. Example questions include what harm could result from the policy, how might the policy affect the social fabric of the nation, and how fair is this policy?

When first asked about their support for immunity passports, a majority (61%) of people ‘moderately’ to ‘fully’ supported their introduction. However, after considering the broader effects of immunity passports, support dropped to 46%.

Although most Australians did not provide much support for the introduction of immunity passports, our results show that 80% of Australians were not very concerned about their introduction. It may be that Australians do not see the introduction of immunity passports as likely in Australia, but these attitudes may shift in the coming weeks.

A key concern with introducing immunity passports is that people may choose to deliberately self-infect with COVID-19 to increase their freedoms and return to their normal activities. Our results indicate that this scenario is very unlikely, with 70% of participants indicating they would ‘not at all’ consider this as an option.

Australia’s attitudes towards immunity passports may change over time. As lockdown laws remain in place and social distancing continues, the desire to return to everyday activities will only increase. The current results form part of an ongoing investigation into the Public’s attitudes towards COVID-19 policy making. More results will be announced by the Complex Human Data Hub as they happen. Follow these links to see the latest results from Australia and around the world.

More Information

Simon Dennis | CHDH Director