As the use of vaccine passports snowballs around the world, concerns about their potential reach and implications are growing.
Vaccine passports (or passes or certificates) are being rushed through around the world, including in places where most people have not even been able to get a vaccine yet. They are being touted as a way of jump-starting the global economy by providing a means for people to prove their vaccinated status, allowing them to travel, shop, go to the gym, attend sporting and cultural events and conduct other indoor activities. Countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore have already introduced vaccine passports in the last couple of months.
Of course, the use of the word “passport” is deceptive. “Passport” implies a document endorsed by a state that establishes citizenship and guarantees diplomatic protection. A traditional passport does not require the bearer to participate in a vaccine program, although immunity certificates have existed for diseases such as Yellow Fever. Another difference is that a vaccine passport is likely to come in the form of a digital document. The potential scope of its application is also far broader than that of a normal passport. It could be required not only to establish identity and vaccine status at national borders but also to travel, access public buildings and basic services within one’s own country of residence.
In countries that already have an established national health service, such as the UK and Israel, the vaccine passport has been mandated at state level. In the US tech and health-care companies are firmly in the driving seat. At least 17 alternative programs are currently under development. As for the EU, it has proposed issuing “digital green certificates” that would allow EU residents to travel freely across the 27-nation bloc by the summer as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19 or recovered from the disease. It’s worth noting that the EU has been studying the feasibility of creating a common EU vaccination card since early 2019.