Skip to main content

Academic Experience

One in five Americans would seek infection with the COVID-19 virus to earn an “immunity passport”

A wide variety of political and business leaders have advocated for “immunity certificates” or “immunity passports”. These would allow individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to attend large gatherings, visit hospital patients, or be preferentially hired at eldercare facilities.

Those plans initially faltered because of a lack of evidence that previous infection provided ongoing immunity. Evidence is mounting, though, that infection will indeed grant at least some degree of immunity.

Bioethicists have cautioned that immunity passports would lead some individuals to intentionally seek infection in order to gain the rights such a passport would provide, but no one has gathered data on this possibility until now.

In June 2020, we ran a study of more than 1,000 adults in the U.S. We asked about their willingness to intentionally seek infection to achieve immunity, their opinion about various organizations treating visitors and employees differently based on immunity status, their experience of the pandemic, and a variety of demographic and attitudinal questions.1

Our findings are detailed below, but you can also analyze the data yourself for free in Stats iQ, an easy-to-use, cloud-based statistical analysis tool.

Seeking infection for access to social opportunities

We told respondents to imagine for the purposes of the study that “anyone who has recovered from the COVID-19 virus cannot be re-infected and cannot infect others.2 We then asked if they would seek out infection if earning immunity gave them access to various opportunities.

  • 14% of U.S. adults would “probably” or “definitely” seek infection if that was required to go to gatherings greater than 25 people
  • 13% of U.S. adults would seek infection to visit eldercare facilities (“retirement homes, assisted living centers, or nursing homes”)
  • 12% of U.S. adults would seek infection to visit foreign countries
  • 10% of U.S. adults would seek infection to visit hospital patients

22% of U.S. adults answered “probably” or “definitely” to at least one of the above.

The most important driver of a willingness to seek infection for social opportunities is the age of the respondent.3

Seeking infection for access to eldercare opportunities

Early proponents of immunity passports suggested that eldercare facilities might reasonably require their staff to have an immunity certificate.

  • 51% of U.S. adults “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that eldercare facilities (“retirement homes, assisted living centers, or nursing homes”) should be allowed to require an immunity certificate to work at the facility.4
  • 11% of U.S. adults would “probably” or “definitely” seek infection if that was required to maintain or access employment at an eldercare facility.

The most important driver of a willingness to seek infection for such a job is whether the individual is a gig worker. 29% of gig workers report that they would seek infection to maintain or access a job in eldercare.

The second-strongest driver of a willingness to seek infection for such a job is age.

Another significant driver of a willingness to seek infection for an eldercare facility job is an interaction between gender and being a parent of a minor.

Varied experiences of staying at home

While it wasn’t the main focus of our study, we also asked respondents about the impact of spending more time at home and reduced social interaction. Surprisingly, about as many respondents indicate that the experience had been positive as indicate that it was negative.5

This is driven in significant part by the varied experiences of fathers, mothers, and individuals without children.6

The rest of the story

Our study asked questions about a wide range of attitudes, behaviors, and demographics that are not discussed in this article. Countless relationships between those questions are waiting to be explored.

So analyze the data yourself for free in Stats iQ, our easy-to-use, cloud-based statistical analysis tool, and feel free to publish any novel findings from that data.

Find out how Stats iQ can help deliver powerful insights


  1. Go here to see a demographic breakdown of the survey population before and after weighting to match the U.S. population distribution. All statistical analyses cited in this report were run at a 95% confidence level.
  2. To reduce confusion, throughout the survey we referred to the virus as “the COVID-19 virus” (i.e., the virus associated with COVID-19).
  3. We used an extension of regression known as Relative Importance Analysis (also known as Johnson’s Relative Weights or Shapley Analysis) to determine the drivers of the behaviors discussed in the study. In order to be included in this report, a driver of a given attitude (e.g., willingness to seek infection) needed to be (1) statistically significant, (2) account for more than 5% of the r-squared (the explainable variation in the output), and be (3) theoretically useful. Those drivers are then, unless otherwise mentioned, split out using descriptive and bivariate analysis, not the regression results.
  4. We presented respondents with a 2-3 arguments for and against the concept of immunity certificates based on published articles and scholarly work. We did not deeply educate respondents on the issue, so these should be taken as initial reactions.
  5. Gig workers were more positive that the rest of the study population on these measures. They were excluded from the calculations in the Pandemic Experiences section because it’s possible that they interpreted the question about the impact of staying at home differently from others; namely, that they were reflecting on the impact of their finances from others staying at home.
  6. Respondents were given the opportunity to select several trans non-binary gender options, based on the recommendations of the Williams Institute at UCLA. Not enough respondents selected those options for us to conduct meaningful analysis on those groups, so they were not included in analyses in this report.


Carol Haney // Head of Research and Data Science

At Qualtrics, Carol Haney is head of research and data science. Her principal research area is online quantitative research, specifically focusing on best practices around sampling, Total Survey Error, and advanced analytics.

Carol currently works with multiple commercial clients, mostly in the financial, health, and tech spaces. Carol has experience running large survey programs that involve customer experience, segmentation, and performance measurement. In 2015, Carol was honored by Qualtrics as the most valuable player.

Prior to Qualtrics, Carol has worked in executive positions at Toluna; Harris Interactive; TNS; SPSS; and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. Carol currently leads all the formative research for the CDC’s anti-smoking ads for the past five years, a campaign that has in part contributed to the five-year decline in smoking rate in the U.S. amongst adults from 23% to 14%.

Greg Laughlin

A product manager by trade and data analyst at heart, Greg Laughlin co-founded Statwing in 2012 to make delightful and efficient statistical analysis software. Statwing was acquired by Qualtrics in 2016 and developed into Stats iQ, a modern approach to statistical analysis that is built for analysts, not statisticians. Greg holds a BA in Political Science and a MA in Sociology from Stanford University.

Related Articles