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Relationships and health | Science | Geography | Citizenship | PSHE

Row intensifies over vaccine passports

Are they a good idea? Several countries already require proof of vaccination to allow travel. Some hope these passports can help reopen the economy; others are bitterly against them. Speaking on Tuesday, UK vaccines minister Nadim Zahawi smiled ruefully as he was asked to address the “vexed issue of passports”. His interviewer was not talking about the colour of British travel documents, but about a debate within the government on whether or not to introduce “vaccine passports”. When asked why other ministers had spoken of passports being used to permit access to businesses such as shops, Zahawi replied that “sometimes people have different interpretations of what it means to have a vaccine passport.” Confusions of this kind have intensified in recent weeks. As more people have been vaccinated, some have suggested that proof of vaccination will become necessary for allowing re-entry into normal life. US president Joe Biden has already issued an executive order to examine “the feasibility” of vaccine passports. The form these are likely to take worldwide is an electronic, biometric record of whether or not someone has had a Covid-19 jab. The most obvious use for this is to allow international travel. Iceland, Sweden and Denmark have already laid out plans for a vaccine passport system – as have Israel and Bahrain. The European Commission is looking into developing a Europe-wide scheme. A vaccine passport would work like the certificates that already exist for other diseases. To enter some countries, you must prove that you have had a vaccine for yellow fever or meningitis. But international travel is not the only area where a vaccine passport might be useful. Many industries, such as hospitality, are currently struggling because of social distancing rules. Using vaccine passports could be a lifeline that allows them to reopen. It has even been suggested that a vaccine passport should be necessary for certain jobs and that those who work with vulnerable people must prove that they have had the jab. This line of thinking has worried some people. They suggest that a vaccine passport system may be unfair to those who have yet to receive it, cannot receive it – and even to those who refuse it. Others raise concerns about the long-term consequences of making it necessary to carry biometric identification in order to go out in public. They see this as an erosion of civil liberties, and even an echo of totalitarian regimes. The usefulness of vaccine passports depends in part on whether or not the vaccine stops transmission of the virus, which only occurs if they produce sterilising immunity. Early evidence is promising, but it could be some time before we know for sure. As the picture becomes clearer, calls for vaccine passports are likely to increase. Some will argue that liberties must be balanced with the security of the public. For supporters, such as former UK PM Tony Blair, such a trade-off is “inevitable”. So, are vaccine passports a good idea? New Frontier Yes, say some. We will need them if we want to manage a global crisis without shutting down borders and the economy. Covid-19 is unlikely to be completely eliminated and the world cannot afford to wait until then before normal travel and trade resume. Vaccine passports would allow a safe way of starting to open life up again. Carrying identification is a small price to pay for being able to go out safely. No, say others. Making everyone carry identification is the act of a state that sees its citizens as the enemy. Depending on what kind of scheme is being implemented, you are either allowing private businesses or the state to discriminate against those who have not had the vaccine. People from poorer countries, where vaccine production has yet to reach, will be barred from travel, worsening global inequalities. KeywordsTony Blair - Tony Blair was the leader of the Labour party. He was British prime minister from 1997 to 2007. 

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