The use of vaccine passes aren’t without precedent – in the 1920s, most American schools required proof of smallpox vaccination from children wishing to attend. Nevertheless, talks of introducing the Covid-19 vaccination pass (termed as the Digital Green Pass) by the European Commission seem to be causing an especially controversial debate, especially within a population that is still sceptical towards the vaccine. Take the example of France, for instance, where less than half of its people are willing to get the jab.
The use of vaccinations has never been unanimous, and as with most things, probably never will be. However, the current fight is beyond the mere anti-vaccination movement. Whether a person chooses to get vaccinated or not is beside the point – the idea of an immunity certificate has received negative criticism from even those who are pro-jab. The question of invasion of privacy and freedom of choice is the one being asked.
European countries themselves are divided – Iceland, Denmark and Sweden have already launched a similar initiative. As expected, tourism-dependent countries Italy, Spain and Greece are amongst the ones willing to recognise and enforce lightened measures for those with proof of vaccination. Meanwhile, Britain’s health secretary has taken a less agreeable stance towards the prospect, with Belgium, France, Germany and Poland echoing this sentiment.
The scepticism is well warranted. Yes, people do have the right to be safe and protected – living in a society where the majority walking around are vaccinated may be one way to achieve that. On the other hand, while vaccinations are optional, the implementation of a vaccination passport can make it seem almost mandatory. The repercussions will be felt between and within countries. For one, it will exacerbate inequalities between higher and lower-income countries. The latter will have more difficulty accessing vaccines, and therefore their population will have no option but to continue living in isolation until much later.
Though it is unlikely that governments will refuse entry to those unvaccinated, but rather supplement with alternative methods such as negative PCR tests before entry, vaccination passports still have the potential to cause social stigmatisation within a country’s own population. Whether you are willing to get vaccinated or not no longer remains a confidential detail of your personal life, but it becomes an aspect that will be publicly disclosed. Not having a vaccination passport is not only an issue of access to public places or travel, but it is a cause to be judged and criticised by members of society who disagree.
From a medical perspective, softening the regulations, even for the vaccinated, may not be the best route as of now. Undoubtedly, the vaccination is crucial for infection reduction and for lightening the potentially horrific symptoms and side-effects of the virus. That being said, Melinda Mills, the director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at Oxford University acknowledged the ‘limited support of vaccinations on the extent to which vaccines reduce transmission of the virus, raising the possibility that vaccinated travellers may spread the virus even if they do not get sick themselves.’ She is not the only one – the World Health Organization released a similar statement. If health experts are discouraging relaxing the rules, should the European Commission approve the proposal that will essentially result in just that?
We do have to consider that these passports may be ideal, or even necessary, for the re-stimulation of the economies that have suffered through the year-long ordeal. Certain industries, including hospitality and travel, have been left high and dry, with barely any means to continue their businesses. On a more granular level, even a little more room to breathe will benefit us innately social creatures. In a recent survey, two-thirds of British people said they would accept the use of immunity passports, despite their country’s own divided stance on the matter. Indeed, the development and implementation of these passes still have room for improvement and must take ethics and security into extensive consideration in order to ensure it causes more good than harm. It is a job no one envies. That being said, it seems that lockdowns and isolation protocols are becoming unbearable after over a year. If this is what it takes to participate in activities we thought were no longer possible, the majority will most likely comply regardless of personal misgivings.