‘Possibility of a Covid-19 vaccination health passport worrying’

The possibility of countries demanding proof of Covid-19 vaccination and introducing vaccination passports is worrying, as it raises troubling human rights issues, activists have said.

Human rights activists have pointed out that rather, focus should be on advising people on the safety of vaccines.

Their sentiments come on the backdrop of reports that some western countries such as the United States (US), United Kingdom and the European Union are considering digital Covid-19 vaccine passports that would allow citizens to show they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

These Covid-19 vaccine passports could be used for traveling abroad, as well as granting access to places such as supermarkets, restaurants and bars.

In Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa made similar warnings that although Covid-19 vaccination was voluntary, those who resist vaccination could lose out on certain services such as taking a ‘simple bus ride.’

Zimbabwe is currently going through the second phase of the vaccination campaign, with 37 660 people having been vaccinated as of March 15, 2021.

But rights activists are worried by these developments.

“The idea of a health passport is an over-excited, mischievous and plainly a silly call,” said human rights activist Effie Ncube.

Ncube said calling for Covid-19 vaccine passports was problematic in at least two levels.

“Firstly, the vaccines are a multi-billion dollar fortune for the pharmaceutical industry. So they have every reason to push the government to introduce a health passport so that they can make even more money. Any government doing a bidding for the pharmaceutical industry is abdicating its constitutional obligations to citizens,” he said.

“Secondly, a health passport raises serious and troubling human rights issues. Covid-19, though very dangerous, is not that of an existential threat to warrant suspension of constitutional rights to privacy and freedom from unfair discrimination.”

The human rights activist argued that a post-coronavirus dictatorship, which discriminates on health grounds must be resisted at all costs.

“We must encourage people to be vaccinated by showing the efficacy, safety of vaccines and the benefits of being vaccinated. It’s too early, outrageously irrational, totally unreasonable  and completely unnecessary to compel those who desire not to be vaccinated,” Ncube noted.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is also not currently keen on vaccine passports.

In a statement, published on January 28, 2021, WHO officials said governments should “not introduce requirements of proof of vaccination or immunity for international travel as a condition of entry” at present.

This, however, has not stopped conspiracy theories from circulating, with some claiming the Covid-19 pandemic brought a New World Order plan that would see only those who are vaccinated working and travelling.

President of Global Immunisation at the Sabin Vaccine Institute, Dr Bruce Gellin predicted there will be a lot of conversation around this subject.

“It’s not a simple answer as to what can happen with them, you can imagine two things will be a part of these stories to look into whether or not  these immunity passports exist and how they are used. The other point is related to vaccine recommendations more broadly, will people be required to have a vaccine in the US, other countries and other health settings,” he said to questions from CITE.

“For instance in the US, we require an influenza shot because we want to make sure people don’t bring influenza to their patients, they protect themselves and the workplace. There’s been a lot of discussion about that, I imagine in a lot of settings there might be similar discussions.”

Sabin Vaccine Institute is located in Washington, D.C. in the United States and is a non profit organisation promoting global vaccine development, availability, and use.

Dr Gellin said immunity passports were not ‘really’ new and gave an example that vaccination cards were a must for yellow fever disease.

“I know we have these now for yellow fever. So when there’s a yellow fever outbreak, people need to have their yellow fever card to show that they are vaccinated before they can move around. As for Covid-19, are you going to be required to show that you have been vaccinated  to go shopping, to go to a movie, to go on an airplane? I don’t have the answers for these but I think you can start to see a lot of these discussions and from the employer’s standpoint,” the researcher said.

He noted that from a business standpoint, workplaces may want to provide a safe workplace so they may want to say “‘well to do come into my store, to do this, you have to show that you are protected and not going to infect others.’”

“I don’t have the answer to this,” Dr Gellin stressed but added, “as we see increasing vaccination rates, there will be an increase in discussion about proof about that vaccination and what they may mean for other decisions.”

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