Do vaccine passports make sense?

Sabrina Almeida

As more people around the world get vaccinated, the closer we get to vaccine passports becoming a reality. As controversial and discriminatory as they may be, where you can go and what you can do may soon be determined by whether or not you’ve been inoculated.

While the travel and entertainment industry may be the first to require proof of vaccination, employers could soon follow. All businesses have an ethical obligation towards providing a safe workplace for their employees. Seeing how the pandemic has altered life as we knew it, COVID-19 health protocols are likely to become part of workplace safety for the next few years at least. Inoculated staff could mean reduced liabilities. From the human resource point of view,  many of us may also not feel comfortable working with someone who has not taken their shots. Thus making it a workplace requirement or even a condition for employment. 

There are some who are unhappy about this and see it as an infringement of their civil liberties and individual freedoms. Yet these same people are very willing to roll up their sleeves if it means they can travel abroad. 

Many people I talked to openly shared their concerns about safety, efficacy and how long protection lasts as being the main reasons for vaccine hesitancy. The development of vaccine-resistant mutations has also raised more doubts about what was being sold as a means of returning to normalcy. But expectations that vaccine passports would become necessary for international travel, cruises and all-inclusive vacations prompted them to cast all doubts aside.

I admit that my initial skepticism about vaccine safety was also overridden by the need to travel to India to visit my mum. In all honesty, it’s what convinced me to sign up for the shots. Now I’d also like to believe that it will avert the need for hospitalization especially if I contract the virus when abroad.

Arguments in favour of vaccinations say it makes daily life safer especially since we cannot count on everyone to mask up and socially distance to prevent spread. 

However there is a certain amount of confusion and skepticism about this as none of the vaccines said they prevent an individual from contracting and transmitting the coronavirus. 

We are simply told they will protect us from “hospitalization” and “death”. We are also clinging to the hope that the vaccines will make us immune to it. 

But here too there are question marks about how much of the population must be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. According to the World Health Organization measles requires about 95% of a population to be vaccinated while for polio the threshold is around 80 per cent. The percentage of the population that must be vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity against COVID-19 is still not known. 

We also don’t know how the varying efficacy rates of the different vaccines will impact this immunity we are trying to achieve. And there is a possibility that COVID-19 vaccine booster shots might become an annual event in our fight against the virus and its mutations.

Given the many unknowns surrounding immunization, do vaccine passports make any sense then?

Airlines, cruise liners, hotels and social event organizers are likely to do some arm twisting in this regard. After taking a severe beating during the pandemic, they will look to vaccinations of their staff and customers as a way to get back to business.

Those against vaccine certificates say it violates an individual’s freedom of choice and is also not evidence based. The World Health Organization reportedly discouraged countries from  implementing vaccine passports.

But with inoculations being touted as the only way to save lives and the economy, individual freedoms and civil liberties may have to take a back seat.

While no government has made vaccinations mandatory,  pressure to get inoculated can be applied in many other ways including making vaccine passports necessary for movie theatres and concerts or even grocery stores who must keep their staff and customers safe. Foreseeing trouble, some federal governments have cleverly passed the buck on to local authorities.

Amidst all the uncertainty it seems like lockdown fatigue is slowly but surely eroding opposition to getting vaccinated. A recent Leger survey showed 80 percent of Canadians intend to take the shots despite concerns about its safety. If this comes to fruition, vaccine passports could very well find a permanent spot in your wallet or handbag. 




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