EL UNIVERSAL Washington / Brussels – The desperation to reactivate economies, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, has prompted an idea: to create vaccination passports that allow businesses, schools or tourist centers to receive people with a little more peace of mind.
However, at the same time, voices have emerged against it, stressing that such a passport would only generate segregation and discrimination, starting with the fact that countries march at very different rates on the issue of anti-Covid vaccination. That, without taking into account the issue of information privacy.
The only vaccination passport recognized and approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) is the yellow fever passport, established in 1969, a yellow triptych card that is requested from travelers to certain countries in the world. This disease is the only one specified in international health regulations, although there is a possibility that the WHO requires proof of vaccination of other diseases in cases of a specific outbreak of a virus.
“Right now, the position of the WHO is that national authorities and travel operators should not introduce proof of vaccination requirements against Covid-19 for international travel as a condition of departure or entry for multiple reasons,” the organization explains. specifying for example that the brake of the disease in those who are vaccinated and, especially, the unequal distribution of vaccines and the disparity in the supply of doses is not fully demonstrated.
The United States, from its privilege of having the tools, systems and resources necessary for mass vaccination at a frantic pace, largely due to the application of a unique nationalism and protectionism, already sees the post-Covid moment and the arrival from the moment in which the experts proclaim that there is sufficient herd immunity to begin to demystify the measures applied.
Until then, the desire to return to the so-called normality is intense after a year of restrictions, and the companies and organizations that have been affected want quick solutions so that their activity returns to what it was before.
There are airlines that are testing a vaccination demonstration through an application; New York has done something similar with its Excelsior Pass, a digital system that serves as a test for those places that request that attendees be vaccinated. Walmart is also offering Americans who get vaccinated in its stores to enter a digital portal to access their vaccination status when needed; Most healthcare providers include Covid vaccination in their clients’ records.
All these proposals are nothing more than something like a version of a “vaccination passport” against the coronavirus, the path that many see as the only feasible way for an adequate economic recovery that avoids a resurgence of outbreaks and evades the fear of clients to be infected.
What it has raised is many doubts, especially ethical and moral but also practical, as well as the reluctance of those reluctant to share information and concerned about the privacy of their data, especially medical ones.
The doubts are not only due to privacy, but also the challenges it presents in terms of discrimination: just as the coronavirus affected more certain demographic groups -normally disadvantaged in society-, applying a tool of this type would also generate segregation and classism in the population, both domestic and international.
In addition, it would expand what for some is the real debate: a passport would be just the demonstration of the inequality and privilege of certain nations, including the United States, and their ability to overcome one of the most important public health crises in history. recent.
For the moment, the White House, although it is studying the matter internally, denies that it has in its objectives the creation of a national system on the vaccination of its citizens.
“I will be clear: the government does not now and will never support a system that requires Americans to carry a (vaccination) credential,” Presidential spokeswoman Jen Psaki said a few days ago. She came up against doubts about data privacy or a possible government obligation to be vaccinated. “There is a movement in the private sector to identify ways in which to be able to return to events where there are many people (…) It is where the idea originated, and we hope that is where it ends,” she added.
For now, the United States counts as proof of vaccination a rectangular piece of cardboard filled in by hand by a doctor or the one who provides the vaccine to the patient. A kind of card that, on the other hand, has already awakened a market for copies that are sold over the Internet for those who want to falsely demonstrate that they have received the vaccine, an item that is especially precious for those anti-vaccines who refuse to be immunized, either because they do not believe in them or because they declare that no one, not the government or any health authority, should force them to do so.
The issue polarizes Americans:
- A recent YouGov poll shows that overall, 39% of Americans are in favor of implementing a vaccination passport while 40% are against; positions divided by ideology: 61% of Democrats are in favor, 62% of Republicans are against.
- Almost a score of universities, including Rutgers, Brown or Cornell, have already announced that they will ask their students for proof of vaccination to attend the semester that begins this fall.
- Several governors of republican states, including Texas and Florida, have decreed that any type of vaccine passport be prohibited. For its part, proof of vaccination is expected to be required to enter Hawaii starting this summer.
In Europe, by contrast, the proposal takes more and more shape. Facing the coming summer, the institutions of the European Union are exploring ways to restore to citizens the right to circulate freely within the bloc in the context of a pandemic that does not relent.
The formula put on the table bears the name of Digital Green Certificate, which would not only provide proof that the person has been vaccinated, but also the results of the Covid-19 tests and data on the acquisition of antibodies as a result of the recovery. of that disease.
It will be available to community citizens, free of charge and in paper or digital format, that is, on a phone with a QR code. The information will be available in English and the official language of the issuing country.
Only vaccines recognized by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) can be included in the document, although each country can choose to accept or not a biological not recognized by the community health authority; Hungary, for example, has the Chinese CanSino vaccine, the Indian CovidShield and the Russian Sputnik V, not yet endorsed by the EMA.
The information contemplated will be very basic: name, date of birth, relevant information about the vaccine, the test or the recovery. The data will not be centralized at the European level.
It will be valid in the Member States, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, and will be invalidated on the day the World Health Organization declares the end of the pandemic.
The initiative was officially launched by the European Commission on March 17 and the European Parliament activated an emergency mechanism to pronounce itself in the June plenary.
For the promoter of the initiative, the European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, it is the most pragmatic way to ensure the free movement of all citizens and without discrimination, since vaccination cannot and should not be a precondition to allow mobility .
“Our intention is to facilitate the gradual elimination of restrictions allowing freedom of safe movement until the end of the pandemic. We want to offer a reliable tool that is easily understood ”.
The legal scope of the certificate will be limited only to freedom of movement in land, air and sea movements, so that if the States choose to give it another purpose, such as a document that also serves to attend the theater, cinema, concerts or zoos, they will have to adapt their national legislation justifying this use.
Regarding the handling of the data, these can only be retained by the national authorities and for the purposes of controlling the epidemic; and not by the entities in charge of controlling the records, such as the airlines at the boarding points.
In a second phase, it is contemplated to design a system that allows the recognition of these certificates issued by third countries; Israel and Bahrain have launched similar initiatives.
Questions in the air
The exchanges of points of view within the community legislature have, above all, raised questions about data management, discrimination and aspects related to the safety of the vaccine.
The MEP of the European People’s Party, Jeroen Lenaers, believes that it will allow citizens to show in a quick, simple and homologated way that they meet the conditions to travel, although he says there is a risk of counterfeiting.
In the socialist caucus, as well as in the liberals of Renew Europe and the Greens, there is sympathy for reestablishing free movement in an orderly manner and as soon as possible, but they warn about the handling of data, the alternative use of certificates and the difficulties for effective application.
Tineke Strik MEP is concerned that it ends up being a discriminatory tool, since based on this document, access to public services or freedom of movement could be restricted for those who cannot meet any of the three criteria, either for economic reasons or geographic.
“The end of the certificate will depend on the proclamation of the end of the pandemic by the WHO. A community instrument cannot be indirectly subordinated to what an outside body does, this can undermine the interests of the Union ”, denounces the MEP of the European Reformists, Nicola Procaccini.
Outside the institutional corridors, the initiative finds the greatest support in countries that depend on tourism, one of the sectors most affected by the closures. Even the claim for the creation of a community certificate free of coronavirus comes from long before. In a letter dated January 12, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the attention of the European Commission to the urgency of creating a vaccination passport to restore economic activity to pre-pandemic levels.
Sectors such as tourism and transport have also enthusiastically welcomed the proposal. The aviation industry, which includes the International Air Transport Association (IATA), calls for rapid adoption and immediate start of preparations for its implementation.
In a statement, they point out that 54% of Europeans aim to make a trip before the end of July and 41% of them want to travel to another European country. “89% of people agree that governments should standardize vaccine tests and certificates,” he says.
“EU coordination is vital to avoid a fragmented situation with 27 different certificates related to tests, vaccination and immunity,” says the European Tourism Manifesto, an alliance representing some 60 travel organizations.
At the multilateral level, there are those who show their reservations. The WHO has advised against introducing proof of vaccination against Covid-19 as a requirement for international travel, since the effectiveness of the biological to reduce the transmission of the disease to others, as well as the duration of protection, is still unknown.
It also considers that preferential vaccination of travelers could result in a shortage of vaccine supplies for priority populations.
The measure discussed in Brussels is unprecedented. The initiatives undertaken so far are national in scope, circulate under the name of a vaccination pass or passport, and the intended uses are diverse. For example, in Sweden it is for travel and attendance at cultural and sporting events. Similar documents are also available in Denmark, Poland and Estonia.