What is a Covid-19 vaccine passport and will you need one?

Published 2021-03-19 12:52:18
Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay

Many countries have proposed introducing a Covid-19 vaccine passport in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19 and revive the travel industry and global economy.

According to CNBC, the International Air Transport Association is launching a travel pass app (IATA Travel Pass) to resuscitate international travel that will be quarantine free. Covid-related medical information will be accessible to governments and airlines who will have your current health status, in terms of Covid-19 vaccinations and results of tests. The same principle is being considered or adopted by other organisations and tech giants, like CommonPass and the World Economic Forum.

A green pass to record tests or vaccination for Europe

The European Union is considering introducing a “Digital Green Pass” to record an EU citizen’s vaccination status, results of any tests done if a Covid vaccination has not been done yet and recovery if an individual has contracted the virus, to promote free and safe travel within the EU. The President of the European Commission suggested that this common passport form a bridge connecting the various EU nations.

The passport would ideally consist of pertinent information relating to an individual’s Covid-19 status:

  1. Details of the vaccination taken
  2. A negative Covid-19 test where a vaccine was not administered
  3. A safe level of antibodies in one who was already infected and has subsequently recovered

This passport  will be an official document issued by a government attesting the identity and nationality of that individual and confirming, for example, that that individual has been vaccinated and poses no risk of virus transmission.

Countries like Israel, who have been leading efforts to get their populations fully vaccinated, have already a version of this vaccine passport that allows vaccinated individuals to have access domestically to public spaces like restaurants, gyms and large gatherings.

Israel and Greece have signed an agreement on the 8th February to implement this Covid pass in order to ease and encourage travel between these two countries. Individuals from either country holding this pass will be able to travel between Israel and Greece freely once normal travel resumes. Israel is also in discussions with Cyprus to include this Mediterranean country into the agreement.

Countries depending on tourism are pushing for a vaccine passport

Countries like Spain, Malta, Portugal and Greece depend largely on tourism for their economies. Greece is hopeful that other EU countries will soon join the common vaccine passport agreement to boost Greek travel and tourism which has taken a brutal beating from the Covid-19 pandemic.

France and Germany initially disagreed with the idea of a common passport but are quickly recognising the advantages of having a single document which allows EU citizens to travel freely within the EU.

France in particular held the stance that giving some individuals more rights than others who have not yet had the vaccination, for whatever reason, was unfair. But when considering the new summer season of travel fast approaching they readjusted their view to saying they are willing to look at all options once more answers are available with regards to the safety of the vaccine and how widely it covers immunity to the Covid virus. French authorities are more fixated on the idea that vaccines help boost the economy domestically (allowing shops and restaurants to open for instance) rather than attracting overseas travellers.

Belgium and Hungary are also open to the idea of a unified vaccine passport. However, Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Estonia are exploring other options for their citizens who wish to travel abroad.

Countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia issue a health pass on an app for individuals who have been inoculated against the Covid-19 virus. This app with the updated health status has to be produced when travelling between the two countries. 

Possible pitfalls to the Covid-19 vaccine passport

The idea of a vaccine passport is not a new one. The World Health Organisation devised a “yellow book” for the vaccinations required for travel to various African countries, like yellow fever, and some ethics experts see no problems with the concept of a Covid-19 vaccine passport. Others, however, disagree citing many welfare and social conditions that have to be taken into account to be fair to everyone.

Why are some countries very reluctant to enter into any common vaccine passport agreement when it looks like it could be that answer to all of the global travel restriction woes? Some of the questionable ethical issues that may arise are:

  1. Data protection issues.
  2. Infringement of human rights- citizens without a passport may have no freedom of movement. Imagine your life being regulated by your health status.
  3. Minority groups can be potentially discriminated against because they are more skeptical about taking the vaccine. Some people are unable to take the vaccines due to allergies and pre-existing health conditions.
  4. Younger people and children are lower down on the vaccination list and won’t receive the vaccine soon. This may result in discrimination against this group in the population.
  5. People with the passport may have a false sense of security and discontinue the stringent measures to prevent virus transmission. Ongoing data collection is still necessary to fully understand the protection the various vaccines are giving against Covid-19.
  6. Virus mutations are also still possible and we may require more than one vaccine. This could complicate the logistics of a vaccine passport.
  7. If businesses have access to health info, it could pose a privacy violation.
  8. Other possible implications are if employers want your vaccine passport before allowing you back to the office or even employing you. Some countries are considering legislation that can block employees from returning to work if they haven't received the vaccine.
  9. Potential financial and logistical implications for countries in implementing a passport.
  10. According to the World Health Organisation, some countries do not agree with vaccines being a prerequisite to travel for fear that it may cause vaccine shortages.
  11. Unequal access to vaccines is also a big factor. Not all countries have full access to vaccines for their populations.
  12. There is also no clear scientific evidence of how long immunity from a vaccine lasts and if an inoculated individual can still transmit the virus. Questions also arise on how accurate the testing is to base the results on how freely a person can live.

Advantages of a vaccine passport

  1. Herd immunity can be achieved faster if more people are inoculated against the virus and “normal life” can be resumed. Passport requirements may entice people to get the vaccine quicker than if there was no incentive.
  2. International travel can resume jumpstarting the global economy.
  3. Airlines can safely transport travellers to their destinations with the knowledge that their travellers are virus-free or at least that transmission is minimised.
  4. The multi-million dollar cruise ship industry can start sailing away as per pre-Covid days.
  5. No quarantine days required at your destination means no further delays to your trip and no added cost of quarantining in a hotel in some countries.

The vaccine passport is a very controversial issue raising many more questions than providing answers. It is possible the only feasible solution is to implement the passport for a limited time within very restricted boundaries until the Covid-19 virus and all of its variants are under control with a safe degree of global herd immunity. The pandemic will not be eradicated overnight so it is important to find a long term "passport" solution that works for everyone and not just an elite few.

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Author: KashGo
Expat Mum in the Desert...

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