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Commotion: Vaccine Passports

Megan Healey Megan Healey
23rd March 2021
Commotion: Vaccine Passports
The WHO has advised against vaccine passport requirements (Getty Images).

The Claim

“Vaccine passports” are unethical and ineffective.

Emerging story

As more COVID-19 vaccines are distributed around the world, heated discussion has emerged surrounding the possibility of a “vaccine passport,” a document issued card or smartphone code which proves that the bearer has been inoculated. These documents can be used for travel, or even admission to schools, restaurants, shops, or events.

While no U.S. states or domestic airlines have so far imposed vaccine passport requirements, Florida governor Ron DeSantis made headlines last week when he told reporters that Florida would “reject” them. “You have some of these states saying to go to a sporting event, you have to show either a negative test or a vaccine proof. I think you just got to make decisions. If you want to go to an event, go to an event, if you don’t, don’t, but to be requiring people to provide all this proof,” said DeSantis. “That’s not how you get society back to normal.” 

His comments echo growing concern across the political spectrum on the ethics of a vaccine passport: Included among them are liberals and conservatives, anti-vaccine activists, and public health officials

A supporting image within the article body
A supporting image within the article body
A supporting image within the article body

Misbar’s Analysis

More than 448 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide, with over 100 million administered in the U.S. Immunization has allowed the world to slowly take steps back to normal: schools are reopening, restaurants are allowing indoor dining at limited capacity, and families are reuniting. In Israel, where nearly half of its population has been vaccinated, citizens can now show a digital “green pass” to prove their vaccination status. This past week, the EU proposed a similar pass to promote safe and free movement inside the EU, and China is now using a passport that only allows visitors who have specifically received a Chinese vaccine. 

Many countries already require proof of inoculation against diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. Daycares, schools, and universities also already have certain requirements for students to be up to date on vaccinations upon admission. But COVID-19 vaccines are new, and they haven’t been made available for use throughout the world. Established vaccines such as those against yellow fever and malaria, are more readily accessible.

In the U.S., airlines and other industry groups are putting pressure on the Biden administration to lift international travel restrictions, and implement vaccine passport standards. One of Biden’s executive orders was to assess the possibility of presenting vaccination documents for travel permissions. On the one hand, vaccine passports could assist in speeding up economic recovery, especially for the travel industry. On the other, they could lead to discrimination, and privacy issues

The World Health Organization published an Interim Position Paper in February taking a position against vaccine passport requirements because “there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.” Additionally, vaccines are not yet available to everyone, which “could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe COVID-19 disease.” The WHO also recommends that people should not be exempt from complying with other travel risk-reduction measures just because they are vaccinated.

WHO is hosting a World Health Assembly in May, where  leaders will meet to discuss the ethical and operability issues of vaccine passports and certificate requirements.

Misbar’s Classification


Misbar’s Sources

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