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As the coronavirus vaccines continue to roll out on an international level, the world is now considering the implementation of a vaccine passport. In theory, this kind of passport would help set lives back on track while decreasing the virus’s spread. However, even though the idea is still on a hypothetical level, it has become a serious topic of debate among communities. Thus, world leaders are now contemplating the dilemma of implementing vaccine passports.

What is a vaccine passport?

A vaccine passport is a government-issued health pass that verifies whether the individual carrying it received the vaccine or not. The passport will be either physical like other government-issued cards or digital. However, the international response seems to lean more towards the latter.

Thus, if the world chose the digital route, each individual will carry the passport on a phone or digital wallet. There the encrypted data, which will probably be presented as a QR code, will verify the status of covid-19 vaccination.

Moreover, it is important to note that such procedures are by no means unprecedented. In the past, when other viruses dominated and threatened a country’s overall safety, people had to prove their vaccination before entering certain countries. Such viruses include cholera, yellow fever, and rubella.

On the other hand, the only difference now is the world rallying behind the digital medium. A decision that will facilitate the whole procedure in this age and time. “Just imagine the scene if 180,000 people present a piece of paper that needs to be checked and validated,” said Mike Tansey, a managing director at Accenture, referencing the pre-Covid number of daily passengers at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Where would vaccine passports be used?

For now, the clearest answer is that the vaccine passports will be used while traveling. The facts and numbers are clear. The vaccine is slowing the transmission of the coronavirus. Thus, only allowing the vaccinated population to travel will help in solving the issue. It will also help resume the eager tourism sector. In fact, even though the vaccine passport is still not implemented on an international level, some countries are already demanding proof of vaccination before allowing the entry of certain countries. For example, the Qantas airline is requiring proof of vaccination or recovery for international flights. Another example is saga cruises demanding the same documentation.

However, the vaccine passport also opens a window of endless opportunities for resuming normal lives, which is perhaps the reason behind most concerns. Universities, colleges, and schools will be able to resume everyday education without any fear. Workplaces will be able to open once again, thus helping wounded economies. Furthermore, the documentation would allow entry to vaccinated-only spaces like gyms, concert venues, movie theaters, and restaurants.

Does the vaccine passport widen society’s divides?

According to health experts, even without indulging the anti-vaccine ideology, implementing the regulation of a covid-19 vaccine passport will serve in widening society’s divides. Giving special privileges to the vaccinated population seems fair on paper, but the reality is different. Not everyone who wants the vaccine can access it. Rich countries are buying most quantities, while third-world countries are scrambling to vaccinate the most vulnerable within their population.

“People from different countries, regions, or communities may not have access to vaccines or Covid-19 testing,” said Dr. Sharona Hoffman, a bioethics professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine, noting that low-income countries may not receive vaccinations until 2023 or beyond. “A policy that prevents them from traveling or obtaining other services because of that could be discriminatory and exacerbate socioeconomic disparities.”

Furthermore, even in rich and developing countries, some communities can obtain the Covid-19 vaccine more so than others. “If vaccines become a passport to doing different things, we’re going to see the communities that have been already hardest hit by Covid being left behind,” said Nicole A. Errett, a University of Washington public health expert.

Therefore, instead of providing a solution, the passport will greatly aid social injustices. “You could easily see a situation where it’s creating discrimination, prejudice, and stigma,” said Halima Begum, who runs a British racial equity organization. “We already saw, with the coronavirus regulations with lockdown, disproportionate amounts of stops and searches for young minority men. So you can see who is potentially likelier to be grabbed up for not carrying the passport and therefore be denied access.”

References:

Baker, A. (2021, March 4). Europe Is Considering COVID-19 Vaccine Passports. Should the Rest of the World Catch Up? Time. https://time.com/5944165/vaccine-passports-europe/Fisher, M. (2021, March 3). Vaccine Passports, Covid’s Next Political Flash Point. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/world/europe/passports-covid-vaccine.htmlGilchrist, K. (2021, March 5). “Vaccine passports” will help you travel abroad this year. But they won’t be without their challenges. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/05/digital-health-passport-will-i-need-proof-of-vaccine-to-travel-abroad.htmlKhan, A. (2021, February 25). What are ‘vaccine passports’ and should we have them? Coronavirus Pandemic News | Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/2/25/vaccine-passports-get–toMeredith, S. (2021, February 26). Covid vaccine passports are being considered. And health experts and rights groups are deeply concerned. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/02/25/covid-vaccine-passports-health-experts-are-deeply-concerned.html