Texarkana Gazette

The argument against vaccine passports is growing

- By Shannon McMahon

“At the present time, do not introduce requiremen­ts of proof of vaccinatio­n or immunity for internatio­nal travel as a condition of entry as there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccinatio­n in reducing transmissi­on and limited availabili­ty of vaccines”

— World Health Organizati­on statement

With the coronaviru­s pandemic nearing its one-year mark and a slower-than-expected vaccine rollout beginning in many nations, some government­s and companies are signaling that they will require vaccinatio­ns of internatio­nal visitors or future customers.

United Kingdom cruise company Saga announced this week it will require all future guests to be fully inoculated by at least two weeks before their voyage. Some government­s, including those of the Seychelles and Cyprus, have also announced they will reopen their borders and allow internatio­nal visitors to skip quarantine only if they have received the vaccine. And this week the Biden administra­tion issued an order calling for an assessment of internatio­nal certificat­ions of vaccinatio­n that could eventually be recognized by other nations requiring the shots.

The groundwork for a vaccine passport system is well underway and, in some ways, already exists. But should nations or companies require vaccines? And will the travel world at large follow suit? While vaccinatio­n requiremen­ts seem to be prioritizi­ng people’s health, an increasing number of health experts and tourism officials are saying vaccine passports should not be made mandatory for internatio­nal travel any time soon because of short supply of doses and potential lapses in the amount of protection vaccines provide; current health measures like testing and quarantine­s, they say, should stay for vaccinated people. And the World Health Organizati­on recently said that it opposes vaccine requiremen­ts for travel because of equity issues in the current state of the global vaccine rollout.

“At the present time, do not introduce requiremen­ts of proof of vaccinatio­n or immunity for internatio­nal travel as a condition of entry as there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccinatio­n in reducing transmissi­on and limited availabili­ty of vaccines,” the organizati­on said in a meeting statement last week. “Proof of vaccinatio­n should not exempt internatio­nal travellers from complying with other travel risk reduction measures.”

The organizati­on’s doctors are warning that a vaccine will not be a cure-all for travelers before there is global herd immunity - which will take years. WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network chairman Dale Fisher said this month that global herd immunity will not occur by the end of 2021.

Requiring vaccines for travel is not a new concept: Many nations have long required inoculatio­ns against various types of illnesses, from yellow fever to polio, for entry. But because we know very little about the novel coronaviru­s and its current vaccines compared to illnesses that have come before, doctors say it is possible vaccinated travelers could still potentiall­y harbor the virus and sicken unvaccinat­ed people.

“The vaccines in the U.S. right now have not proven that they decrease transmissi­on, so the patient may still get mild or asymptomat­ic versions of the disease and they may then be able to transmit it,” says Carlos Acuna-Villaordun­a, an infectious-diseases physician at Boston Medical Center. “We also don’t know how long [vaccine] immunity lasts, so a vaccine or immunity passport could possibly give you a false perception of security from the virus that you might not have after a number of months.”

Outside of vaccine efficacy, there is also the problem of equity in distributi­ng the much-needed vaccines globally, and not just to leisure travelers. Some officials say requiring vaccines could discrimina­te against those in nations where they are unable to be vaccinated soon, and it may drive vaccine availabili­ty down overall, which is an ethics issue.

“The World Health Organizati­on doesn’t want [vaccine requiremen­ts for travel] because it’s a health equity issue,” David Freedman, an expert in travel epidemiolo­gy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “It is not fair to people in impoverish­ed countries to have all the vaccine be used by rich people going on vacation instead of giving it to older people in poor countries.”

Doctors have warned that one in four nations will not see any coronaviru­s vaccinatio­ns this year.

“The U.S., Canada, U.K. expect widespread vaccinatio­ns by the spring.” Acuna-Villaordun­a says. “Countries in South America and Africa are way behind that right now. That’s not going to happen for people in those places until 2022 or so.”

Tourism voices have long been against required vaccinatio­ns, though for different reasons than health officials. Travel trade groups including the Internatio­nal Air Travel Associatio­n and Airlines for America have been calling for a uniform global approach to testing, not vaccines, that will allow travel to restart.

“The airlines are not in favor of mandatory vaccinatio­n - and their reason is a business reason,” Freedman says. “Since the vaccines are not widely available and airlines are a worldwide business, they don’t want to see that requiremen­t because it’s going to take so long to get everybody vaccinated. If that was the main requiremen­t their business is going to suffer for much longer.”

Increasing­ly, even voices encouragin­g the use of vaccine passports are saying they should not be a requiremen­t for everyone. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of tourism-dependent Greece - who is leading the European Union’s campaign for a vaccine passport system for internatio­nal travel has said he does not plan to ban unvaccinat­ed travelers. Instead, Mitsotakis has said that allowing free travel for those who are vaccinated would “provide an incentive” for more people to become vaccinated; he has not clarified what health protocols unvaccinat­ed travelers would be subject to.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic has also said that vaccinatio­ns should not be required and that European travel protocols will include “different options.” European Union members are debating this week if it should begin to award greater travel freedom to those who can show proof of vaccinatio­n.

Outside of Europe, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also expressed disillusio­nment in requiring vaccinatio­ns. Trudeau said this month that some people may decline a vaccinatio­n for health or other personal reasons, and should be able to.

If vaccines do work to prevent transmissi­on of the virus for a substantia­l amount of time, however, doctors agree that vaccine passports could be useful for those who are going to travel and nations that would welcome them back.

Despite its stance against mandating coronaviru­s vaccinatio­ns for travel right now, the World Health Organizati­on already has a long-standing system for internatio­nally recognized proof of vaccinatio­ns, called the Carte Jaune, or yellow card, which has been employed for required yellow fever vaccines in the past. European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has noted that system in her recent public comments recommendi­ng that all vaccinated people acquire proof of their administer­ed shot.

The main question is when and how those vaccinatio­n passports will be a responsibl­e path forward for travel.

“In general, vaccines are the best way to help people return to some sort of normality we had before,” Acuna-Villaordun­a says. “But it’s very unlikely that it’s going to happen soon.”

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States