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VACCINE PASSPORTS

Yerin Kang GRAD24

European Leaders across 27 nations recently met on virtual summits to discuss the various issues on the Coronavirus on Thursday the 25th of February. In addition to discussing the EU’s significantly lagging vaccine rollout, border closures and restrictions, there was a catchy debate on one particular topic: vaccine passports. 

 

What are vaccine passports? 

Vaccine passports are documents consisting of medical reports; proving that the individual has received the vaccination against the COVID-19 virus. 

 

Is this a completely new idea? 

For decades, people travelling to certain countries have proven that they have received vaccinations against yellow fever, rubella and other diseases by producing the vaccine passports - or “yellow cards”. What is different for these COVID-19 vaccine passports is that governments are focused on digital systems - to ensure accuracy; eliminate chances of forgery; allow a smoother and efficient process. 

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Why adopt vaccination passports? 

It is reported that in 2020, European destinations experienced a steep decline in tourist arrivals between 51% and 85% [1], compared to its previous year. The pandemic has led to long-lasting lockdowns and lengthy self-quarantines, resulting in significantly reduced international travel during holidays. Currently, the EU is restricting unnecessary international travel to contain the rapid spread of the virus. However, the vaccine passports could be a way of avoiding lengthy lockdowns, enabling freedom to travel again within the EU, and helping the slumping sectors - hospitality, tourism, arts - back to their feet. Countries whose economy heavily depends upon tourism (such as Greece, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden) are especially looking forward to adopting the vaccine pass for the upcoming Summer holidays.

Scientific considerations? 

The COVID-19 vaccines (AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna) are still in the phase of universal distribution with ongoing widespread testing. In the state of uncertainty - whether the vaccines would effectively immunize people and prevent the host from spreading them - it seems too premature to discuss COVID-19 vaccine passport proposals. Moreover, the details on how to issue the criteria are unclear. How long is the immunity maintained within our bodies? Should we also issue the passports to those only inoculated with a single jab (rather than two complete doses)? Can we ensure the efficacy of the vaccine against the emerging COVID-19 variants? 

 

* All viruses, including the COVID-19 virus, constantly change over time by mutations that differentiate them from the predominant viruses. It is still in research whether these strains increase transmissibility, mortality rate, and severity of the infections; also, whether it interferes with the protections from the current vaccination and the antibodies’ abilities. The most common COVID-19 variants include: 

● Found in UK, a variant called B.1.1.7 can spread more easily and rapidly than other variants. 

● Found in South Africa, a variant called B.1.351.

● Found in Brazil, a variant named P.1 emerged - its mutations may affect its antigenic profile, affecting antibodies generated by previous natural infection or vaccination to recognize and neutralize the virus. 

● First found in India, the Delta variant, considered by government scientists to be between 40% to 80% more transmissible than the previous dominant strain and accounts for around 95% of all new cases in the U.K.[2]

 

My personal opinion is that even though countries want tourism to be reactivated in Summer 2021 (after the three-month period of launching the vaccine passports), we still need more time to collect large-scale data, observe and study the possible risks and dangers before we we even consider reopening borders.

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Ethical considerations? 

 

Inequality concerns 

Pregnant women, children, those with allergic reactions or weak immune systems would be unable to receive the jab. Moreover, the vaccine rollouts certainly mean people who receive the vaccine latest from the orders would be disadvantaged by this system. People unable to take the vaccine, and even those who are unwilling to take the jab (due to religious, ethical barriers) could face discrimination, even though vaccination is optional.

 

The system could be a doorway to exclusive privileges (including the freedom to travel, entertainment and social gathering), as Europe’s vaccinated population is only 3% of the global population (by February 2021) [3]. In addition, this system is likely to be adopted in workplaces in the employment processes, requiring a vaccine status; it could also grant a “free pass” to certain areas. 

Privacy concerns 

On top of this, there are debates on the possibility of data sharing platforms misdirecting countries into a technological dystopia, ending up in control and monitoring of one government or company. Therefore, it must be created as a safe and reliable system that does not store people’s personal data to prevent tracking locations of people [4]. The digital vaccination passports will take some time before one, which is universally accepted and provides a high level of privacy, is produced. 

Bibliography 

BACKGROUND image - https://blog.wego.com/how-to-still-travel-despite-the-coronavirus-crisis/ 

Image 1 - JUAN MABROMATA/AFP via Getty Images)

Image 2- Shutterstock/Nattakorn_Maneerat

sources: 

[1] European Travel Commission (11.02.2021), 2020 MARKS THE WORST YEAR FOR INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS TO EUROPE IN OVER 30 YEARS. [online] Available at: https://etc-corporate.org/news/2020-marks-the-worst-year-for-international-arrivals-to-europe -in-over-30-years/#_ftnref1 

[2] Pan Pylas. (June 17,2021) UK records over 10,000 virus cases for first time since Feb [online]. Available at 

https://apnews.com/article/europe-coronavirus-pandemic-coronavirus-vaccine-health-cb9809acd825f083ce5ada31843948fa

[3] indi@kyunghyang.com (25.02.2021), EU도 WHO도 "아직"이라지만 백신여권은 이미 시작됐다 [online] Available at: 

https://m.khan.co.kr/view.html?art_id=202102251400011&code=970205&nv=stand&utm_sou rce=naver&utm_medium=newsstand&utm_campaign=row2_thumb&C= [4]Tariro Mzezewa (published Feb. 4, 2021, Updated Feb. 13, 2021) 

Coming Soon: The ‘Vaccine Passport’ [online] Available at: 

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/04/travel/coronavirus-vaccine-passports.html