The discussion surrounding vaccine passports has been stealing all the headlines recently. So we’ve decided to take a look at exactly how a Covid-19 vaccine passport would work, where it’ll be applied and the potential consequences of issuing vaccine passports, both positive and negative.
What are Covid-19 vaccine passports?
According to the World Economic Forum, “a “vaccine passport” or “e-vaccination” is a “certification of compliance for border crossing regulations” that could be required to enable seamless border-crossing.
Vaccine passports and requirements are not a new concept, especially for people who have traveled to a tropical location. For example, you have to get vaccinated against yellow fever to go to Brazil, where the government has a policy of ‘No vaccine, no entry’. The International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, also known as the “Yellow Card” functions similar to a vaccine passport. Physicians who administer vaccines required for entry by different countries have to fill out these forms, which typically is used for the yellow fever vaccine, but any vaccine approved by the World Health Organization can be listed on the document.
However, the WHO has reported that, in Zimbabwe as many as 80% of people leaving the country have been forging these travel documents, which has led to an effort to fight fake immunization travel certificates with technology.
As international borders begin to reopen, COVID-19 vaccine requirements may be introduced, similar to certain destinations that currently require a negative COVID-19 test for entry,” said AAA’s senior vice president of travel Paula Twidale, according to MarketWatch.
“For now, it is unclear what direction airlines and government regulators will go with this.”
How will vaccine passports be used internationally?
The European Commission is proposing a Digital Green Certificate to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU during the pandemic. The Digital Green Certificate will be proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from the disease. It will be available free of charge in digital or paper format and will include a QR code to ensure the security and authenticity of the certificate, according to the World Economic Forum. Several other countries like Israel, China, Denmark and Japan are issuing digital vaccine passports. In the United States, President Biden’s Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, said that the White House intends to leverage a private- and public-sector to develop a vaccine ID system in a way that is that private and secure – and where access to credentials is equitable and accessible, no matter what technology limitations a person faces at home.
What are the potentially harmful ramifications?
Naturally, anything digital presents a massive privacy risk and confidential medical information needs to be completely secure. There will be major security concerns, considering the need for up-to-date information in the databases. Governments are planning a transparent process that will likely use blockchain technology, with the State of New York’s Excelsior Pass, which was developed through a partnership with IBM that enables individuals to store digital proof of test results and/or vaccine status, and businesses and venues to verify these items without accessing personal-health data, already being released – but only to the people of New York.
However, the leading concern surrounds creating a two-tiered society with vaccination passports. Firstly, as the WHO warned us in January, it would be a moral failure to take a “me-first” approach to vaccines and that developed nations need to support poor nations in their vaccination efforts, where it is needed the most.
A vaccine passport will be a double whammy for people who don’t have access to the vaccine in the first place. Not only, are they vulnerable to Covid-19, but they are being excluded from travel and, as has been indicated, vaccine passports may even extend to large events, such as concerts, meaning there will be a large group of people that will not be able to resume “normal life” while the privileged few who have been vaccinated can get on with their lives without any restrictions.
And, of course, we’re still not entirely sure about how effective vaccines are against new strains or whether it fully prevents transmissions of the virus. So there’s a lot of uncertainty still and there’s also nothing to be said about which vaccine you get. Will the United States allow travellers to enter after receiving China’s Sinovac or the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine developed in Russia? What will the standard be?
Is it a good idea to issue vaccine passports?
The tourism industry has been hit the hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic… of that there’s little that can be done to revive the entertainment businesses back outside of some robust verification method that ensures we are all safe when the time comes for us to get back to something that vaguely resembles our old, pre-pandemic lives.
However, the concerns over privacy and the propensity for vaccine passports to be exclusionary are certainly valid. What we need is a globally agreed upon standard that maximises the positive outcomes of resuming travel and, potentially, mass gatherings, minimises the privacy risks of and actively pursues equitable rollout of vaccines.
It would be really nice to reward people for getting vaccinated to ensure that as many people do so as soon as possible, but we need to tread very carefully…