As the world continues to grapple with the effects of the deadly pandemic that overtook the world this past year, the idea of Covid Vaccine Passports are being discussed. Among the issues raised are concerns around privacy and data protection – are Covid vaccine passports too intrusive? Could it lead to a slippery slope of invasive control? Further, could it lead to marginalising people who for personal reasons may not want to take the vaccine?
On the flip side, however, is the need for the world to reopen in a safe way whereby people can go about their lives that have been put on a standstill while also feeling reassured that they will not fall prey to this deadly disease. The questions that therefore remain open to debate are: How do we balance the needs of the economy with the protection of individual rights and privacy? How do we weigh up an individual’s right to feel safe versus another individual’s right not to put something into their bodies that they do not wish to have?
There are of course no easy answers and this article does not attempt to take one side over another. Rather, it aims to set out the pros and cons of each argument for the reader to make up his or her own mind.
- Idea of Vaccine Passport is not new
Those who want to implement a Covid Vaccine passport will no doubt point to the fact that the idea of a vaccine passport is not new. In fact, it is already being utilised in some countries in the world for other diseases. For example, countries like Angola, American Samoa and Algeria all require travellers to produce a Yellow Fever Vaccination certificate before they are allowed entry into the country.
Yet, detractors would point to the fact that while such certifications are required, they are only in a limited number of countries. Covid Vaccination passports, on the other hand, would be far more prolific and could lead those who do not take the vaccine to be completely unable to ever travel.
2. It could help with reducing Vaccine Hesitancy
There have been growing concerns about vaccine hesitancy in some people and there are arguments that enforcing a Covid Vaccine Passport would provide a powerful incentive to those who are hesitant to take the vaccine.
However, is this really the way to increase vaccine uptake? Surely it would be better to provide greater awareness and education as to why the vaccine would help? Strong arming people to take the vaccine could breed even greater distrust and lead to other issues down the line.
- Will it really combat Covid-19?
While the vaccines being deployed have shown to have impressive efficacy in reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death for symptomatic Covid-19, there is currently no concrete evidence to show that it can thwart transmission. Bringing in a Covid-19 Vaccine Passport could therefore create complacency. I.e., the danger of simply assuming that because you have been vaccinated, you don’t then spread Covid-19, which could, in turn, make matters worse.
There are also concerns about the variants that have been springing up and whether or not the vaccines in their current forms would be effective against such evolving variants.
The counter-argument for this however is that its efficacy in preventing death and hospitalisation is reason enough to make people take the vaccines. This is especially the case in countries where medical resources are stretched and run the risk of being overwhelmed.
Concerning the variants – does the fact that a virus mutates mean that we do not fight against the strains that we know of? Surely it would be better to protect yourself from what you can with what you have first?
Bringing in such passports will mean that people who are vaccinated and presumed to have immunity will have the ability to do things that others cannot. Given that the vaccine rollout is based on a priority system, some people will be vaccinated before others. Others who choose not to get vaccinated despite being offered the vaccine may also lose out on opportunities. There is a danger of stigmatising individuals who lack certification. You could also end up penalising people who are already at a disadvantage because of certain inequalities.
However, is this really about the passport or is there a wider systemic issue we need to address? Is the idea of a vaccine passport shedding light on some of society’s issues that need addressing? In other words, is the discrimination caused by the passports? Or is it simply a manifestation of a far greater problem? Ultimately, the reasons behind discrimination could go much further back than Covid-19. While bringing in the passports could introduce discrimination, the fact of the matter is that if there is already an existing system of discrimination, would the passport really make matters worse?
The passports could encourage people who have not been vaccinated yet or those who have chosen not to be vaccinated to get certification on the black market.
Yet, it is also imperative to note that fraud has existed pretty much since the dawn of modern civilisation. If we used that logic, let’s also not have online activity because of the plethora of online scams that exist.
If passports are to be adopted, authorities will simply have to look at ways to combat fraud like they do with all other things.
Typically, health information such as vaccination records will be stored by a governing body somewhere. These passports could mean that data is shared with outside companies. Does this mean that such data could be used in ways that are unfair, that are stigmatising, and that are prejudicial to the interests of individuals?
Yet, if how such passports are put into practical effect could be addressed in a way to ensure that your data privacy is protected, would this still be an issue?
To end off
Ultimately, there are no easy answers to any of these questions. What is clearly needed however is a healthy and open debate on the issues where both sides make an effort to LISTEN to the other side. There is also a need to compromise where possible.
If there is a lack of trust for authorities and the like, there is perhaps a need for those in positions of power to self reflect. Why is there a lack of trust? Is there anything they can do to rebuild trust?
Covid-19 forced the world to a standstill. Have we made use of that time to take stock?