Certifications can help prove travelers’ immunization status but may also be discriminatory
Since the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines late last year, controversial health certification programs have been building up in Europe.
According to information from the Schengen visa website, travelers could be asked to present proof that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be eligible to enter the Schengen member states and the European Union.
Some European countries have already made the rules mandatory or are working toward making vaccine passports mandatory.
On Jan 21, Iceland became the first European country to provide COVID-19 vaccination certificates to its citizens who have received two doses of the vaccine. Iceland will recognise similar vaccination certificates that are issued from any EU or Schengen member country. Poland also launched a digital vaccine passport last month.
In early February, two other Nordic countries, Denmark and Sweden, announced they will also roll out digital passports that will not only allow citizens to travel, but to also dine out in restaurants and attend large in-person events like concerts and festivals.
However, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and the United Kingdom are not keen on the health passport idea.
In the Joe Biden administration’s 200-page national pandemic strategy, there is a directive for multiple government agencies to work together to “assess the feasibility “of linking COVID-19 vaccinations to international vaccination certificates and producing electronic versions of them, according to a Forbes report.
Last month, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said that she supports creating a common EU established vaccination certificate that can be issued by member states to their citizens. She even suggested that such a certificate should be a “medical requirement”.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization has called for the implementation of harmonised testing protocols and vaccine passports. The proposal could see the creation of an international standardised digital certification system for COVID-19 vaccinations.
For countries that rely on tourism as a major economic contributor and source of employment, vaccination passports look like a potential fast track to a return to normality.
But Thailand’s health authorities are not onboard yet with the vaccine passport idea.
The country is one of the leading tourist destinations in the world.
The country’s Joint Standing Committee on Commerce, Industry and Banking has urged the government to consider issuing vaccine passports to Thais who are vaccinated against COVID-19 to be used as a certificate when traveling to other countries.
Supant Mongkolsuthree, JSCCIB member and chairman of the Federation of Thai Industries, said foreigners with similar vaccination certificates should also be allowed to bypass strict COVID-19 control measures when entering Thailand for the sake of tourism promotion.
However, the disease control department’s director-general Opas Karnkawinpong said that though research into COVID-19 vaccines has not been completed yet, the vaccines are allowed to be used on humans now as they are believed to be effective to some extent in preventing COVID-19 infections.
He added that the best international agreement on traveling during the COVID-19 pandemic is still a 14-day quarantine.
In January, the World Health Organization said it was opposed “for the time being” to the introduction of COVID-19 vaccination certificates as a condition to allow the entry of international travelers into other countries.
“There are still too many fundamental unknowns in terms of the effectiveness of vaccines in reducing transmission and vaccines are still only available in limited quantities,” stated the WHO in its recommendations. It added that proof of vaccination should not exempt from other health precautionary measures.
The ethics of vaccine passports have been the subject of debate since the idea emerged.
Ana Beduschi, associate law professor at the University of Exeter in the UK, told television news network Euronews that the health passports may help with management of the pandemic, but they may also raise privacy issues.
“Digital health passports may contribute to the long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they pose essential questions for the protection of data privacy and human rights,” she said.
“Arguably, such measures could preserve the freedoms of those who do not have the disease or have been vaccinated. However, if some people cannot access or afford COVID-19 tests or vaccines, they will not be able to prove their health status, and thus their freedoms will be de facto restricted.”
Many experts have noted that to achieve global herd immunity, some 80 to 90 percent of the world’s population would have to be vaccinated.
According to the People’s Vaccine Alliance, rich countries secured 53 percent of the most promising vaccine candidates, despite representing just 14 percent of the world’s population. It said that, without urgent action, just 10 percent of the populations of 67 developing countries can be vaccinated this year, putting citizens of key travel destinations such as Cambodia, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Uganda at risk. China Daily