Vaccine Passports: Next Major Flashpoint Over Coronavirus

Some delegates attending the annual meetings of the Chinese parliament and its advisory body due to begin this week will propose issuing Covid-19 vaccine passports that they say will restore some normality. This has been reported by the Global Times.

The Global Times quoted Zhu Zhengfu, a member of the national committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC),saying “China should promote mutual recognition of such vaccine passports globally to boost international tourism and economic exchanges”.

Zhu also said that international arrivals could be exempted from quarantine requirements if they have a negative nucleic acid test and a vaccine passport.

The annual meetings of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, National People’s Congress (NPC), and its advisory body CPPCC are set to begin on Friday and Thursday, respectively. Delegates attending these NPC and CPPCC meetings submit proposals for new legislation or regulation for consideration during this time, though they do not all become law.

Earlier on March 1, European Union health ministers were told by EU Commissioner Stella Kyriakides “to ramp up coronavirus vaccinations as the bloc’s executive arm prepares plans for certificates that will ease a return to normality for those who are immunized”.

“We are expecting the productions and the deliveries to be increasing over the coming weeks or months,” Kyriakides told reporters after the meeting. “We need to ensure vaccines are administered as quickly as possible so that no vaccines go to waste or are unused.”

The push comes as governments across the bloc face increasing pressure from voters and businesses for a roadmap to end lockdowns and restrictions. The European Commission will unveil a proposal this month for a “Digital Green Pass,” which will provide proof that a person has been vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19, or has received a negative test.

The idea behind vaccine passports is to allow families to reunite, economies to restart and hundreds of millions of people who have received a shot to return to a degree of normalcy, all without spreading the virus.

However, vaccine passport could be the next major flashpoint over coronavirus response.

Some versions of the documentation might permit bearers to travel internationally. Others would allow entry to vaccinated-only spaces like gyms, concert venues and restaurants.

Israel became the first to roll out its own last week, capitalizing on its high vaccination rate.

US President Joe Biden has asked federal agencies to explore options. And some airlines and tourism-reliant industries and destinations expect to require them.

According to New York Times, “Dividing the world between the vaccinated and unvaccinated raises daunting political and ethical questions. Vaccines go overwhelmingly to rich countries and privileged racial groups within them. Granting special rights for the vaccinated, while tightening restrictions on the unvaccinated, risks widening already-dangerous social gaps”.

The Science in Emergencies Tasking: COVID-19 group at the Royal Society of the Oxford University has published a report on the Coronavirus vaccine passports/certificates, which have attracted lots of attention in recent months, ever since countries worldwide started rolling out their vaccination campaigns.

The report, which among others identifies 12 criteria that passports must meet in order for them to be efficient and internationally accepted, was led by Oxford Professors Melinda Mills and Chris Dye.

According to Professor Mills, Director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science notes that the fundamental question that must be asked when it comes to vaccine passports is what the government granting it intends to use it for.

Is it a passport to allow international travel, or could it be used domestically to allow holders greater freedoms?” Professor Mills asks while adding that how these  passports will be used will have crucial importance on “a wide range of legal and ethical issues that need to be fully explored and could inadvertently discriminate or exacerbate existing inequalities.

The 12 criteria that COVID-19 vaccine passports should contain, listed in the report, are as follows:

  • Meet benchmarks for COVID-19 immunity
  • Accommodate differences between vaccines in their efficacy, and changes in vaccine efficacy against emerging variants
  • Be internationally standardised
  • Have verifiable credentials
  • Have defined uses
  • Be based on a platform of interoperable technologies
  • Be secure for personal data
  • Be portable
  • Be affordable to both – individuals and governments
  • Meet legal standards
  • Meet ethical standards
  • Have conditions of use that are accepted and understood by their holders
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