The idea of digital COVID passports or vaccine passports have been floating around or under discussion for some time. Globally, countries are still battling with the coronavirus pandemic and rolling out their own vaccination programs. However, it will still take some time to effectively vaccinate much of the population and render the COVID-19 virus low threat. The pandemic has had a devastating impact on much of our lives and of course, many countries economies. As travel is limited or on hold for much of the world, governments globally are thinking of how they can safely open their borders to restart the lucrative tourism industry. The notion of vaccine passports was proposed as a way of doing just that.
The ‘passport’ would allow a person who has obtained a full COVID vaccination to travel freely in participating countries – or with fewer restrictions according to the guidelines set by the chosen country. After much deliberation, the European Union (EU) has put forward an official proposal to launch the passport scheme within EU countries, with the intention of launching it before the summer.
The European Commission recently proposed the vaccine pass, to allow freedom of movement in a “safe, responsible and trusted manner”. It is hoped that it will allow its 450 million residents travel freely across EU countries by the summer – it has also proposed the possible inclusion of some non-EU states that are closely affiliated with the EU, such as Norway, Iceland and possibly Switzerland.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the EU Commission stated that the EU “can achieve our target to have 70% of adults fully vaccinated by the end of summer” and the pass would “common path to a gradual, safe and lasting re-opening”. The 27-member states will decide on how to use the new digital certificate, whether that would be enjoying travel without restrictions or less restrictions. Currently, the vaccines accepted are those approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which currently include Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. However, guidelines may allow for member states to individually accept vaccination certificates from other COVID-19 vaccines.
Time Out reported: ‘Didier Reynders, the European justice commissioner, yesterday said the pass would be ‘for all EU citizens’, as well as travelers from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland (the four European Free Trade Association countries). The aim of the scheme is to allow anyone who has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has recently tested negative or has recovered from the virus to travel more freely across European borders. Reynders added that there was still a lot of work to be done before the passes can be introduced, but that he hoped the scheme would be in place in time for the summer tourist season.’
The proposal stated that if any of the EU’s 27-member states allowed vaccinated travelers from one country to skip restrictions they must to do for travelers of all the other countries. Indicating that the EU is aiming for a universal approach to implement the ‘digital green pass’, at least in Europe. Some countries such as Spain and Greece, have been campaigning for a vaccine pass, as their economy relies heavily on their tourism industries.
There has been a lot of criticism towards the idea of vaccine passes on ethical grounds even before the EU’s proposal. The use of a vaccine pass could make way for much discrimination for those who did not or could not obtain the vaccination. Further those people, such as young people who are not a priority for vaccination would face quarantine restrictions whilst others would not. This may also force some who would rather not take the vaccination to get it. Further, the data demonstrating how efficient the vaccine is on preventing a person from carrying or passing the coronavirus, is still incomplete. So, inoculations may not halt the spread of the virus completely.
Some countries such as Iceland, are already allowing vaccinated travelers in from any country. Time Out reported: ‘Now, as of March 18, any travelers – including those from the US and the UK – who have been fully vaccinated can travel to Iceland and not have to undergo testing or quarantine. This was an update from a previous policy announced earlier this year that allowed vaccinated travelers from the EU only to enter the country and skip testing and quarantine.’
Whether or not the world adopts a universal vaccine passport scheme, it seems that some countries or tour providers are independently making the decision to lower restrictions or simply letting persons travel into said country with certain ‘passes’ – whether a negative COVID test or full vaccination.