Vaccine passports are a concept that will allow vaccinated individuals to travel sooner and more freely than those who have not received the vaccine. Whilst nothing has been confirmed on vaccine passports in the UK, they are gaining attention in question of their effectiveness and ethics.
However, the idea of vaccine passports is not new, and many countries require vaccinations prior to travel; including yellow fever vaccinations for some South American and African countries. Even though travel vaccinations are not unique to the pandemic, with the controversy of COVID vaccinations in particular, the ethics of mandatory vaccines has been brought into question.
A single dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been found to reduce transmission rates of the virus by 67%. Similarly, a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine has been found to reduce transmission by 70%. A reduction in transmission of the virus means that individuals can protect themselves as well as those they come into contact with. Therefore, it would protect the countries with decreased access to the vaccine from vaccinated travellers.
it’s important to note that they do not 100% guarantee protection from transmission and will need to be used alongside social distancing in order to be effective long-term.
In January, when vaccines had only just been introduced in the UK, Ryanair launched an advertising campaign named ‘Jab&Go’. The campaign aimed to be uplifting but instead received backlash and Ryanair was forced to pull their advert by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The lack of social distancing and mask-wearing in the advert implied that once vaccinated, there would be no need to follow further restrictions. Although vaccine passports could be a way out of travel restrictions, it’s important to note that they do not 100% guarantee protection from transmission and will need to be used alongside social distancing in order to be effective long-term.
Even though the Ryanair advert was pulled for being misleading, vaccine passports are gaining attention and control in the travel industry. Making vaccines a requirement for international travel could encourage travel agencies to invest in the vaccines to boost their own sales, which in turn carries its own ethical issues.
The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission have declared that vaccine passports could lead to “unlawful discrimination”.
The idea of vaccine passports also calls into question the ethics of a government that would make vaccines a requirement. Thus, this suggests that those who choose not to be vaccinated or cannot be vaccinated could be left behind by society. There is already a divide between those in favour of vaccinations and those against, but if travel is reserved for the vaccinated, this could restrict the opportunities of the unvaccinated. The UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission have declared that vaccine passports could lead to “unlawful discrimination”.
The debate on the ethics of vaccine passports is largely based on restricting global travel and opportunities for those who either can’t receive the vaccine or elect against it. The opportunities that international travel offers could be out of reach for unvaccinated individuals, if a vaccine passport scheme does not consider their unique circumstances.
There are also thoughts of vaccine passports being implemented for domestic travel which would allow the return of larger events, such as festivals.
Although vaccine passports are not yet an international agreement, many countries are developing their own systems in the hopes they will be widely adopted. The EU is developing a “digital green-pass” to act as proof of vaccination or of a negative test result, in the hope of allowing safer travel within the EU or abroad. Many other countries across the globe are in the stages of developing their own schemes too.
Whilst vaccine passports could bring the end of travel restrictions, they are a controversial topic at the same time. It makes sense to allow travel for those less at risk of spreading the virus, but this creates a new social divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
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