Recently, the leading party in the UK Government put forward the idea of a vaccine passport, involving documentation that states the holder has been vaccinated against COVID-19. These passports were quickly opposed by many politicians and the general public, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to press forward with the idea, as The Telegraph claims vaccine passports will be trialed at UK events within weeks.
But what are vaccine passports, why do the UK and US Governments want them so badly, and why are many people so opposed to them?
What is a vaccine passport?
A vaccine passport acts much in the same way as a regular passport, but instead of stating your personal details and nationality, they state your record of vaccinations. Similar ideas have been used before, such as for use against yellow fever – people that have had the yellow fever vaccination are often required to show proof, called an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP), before they may enter specific countries. This allows border authorities strict control over possible hazards entering the country, and in times of threat from infectious disease, the ability to turn away people that are not entirely safe from spreading infection.
In cases involving international travel, a vaccine passport is almost inevitable for travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU is currently developing an EU vaccine pass, which would allow free movement between EU countries so long as you've had your jab, and Denmark is rolling out their "Coronapas", which will be linked to a digital system. However, some are suggesting that their use should be extended beyond international travel, also being used nationally as a method of allowing or denying entry into places such as restaurants, pubs, and ticketed events.
Vaccine passports in the UK
Currently making headlines as one of the most controversial ideas introduced in recent times, PM Boris Johnson has hinted at the use of vaccine passports in international travel in the past few months as the vaccine rollout continues to inoculate millions of people. On February 23, the Prime Minister explained there would be a "proper review” of their use, assessing their feasibility whilst ensuring they would not be discriminatory towards people that cannot get the vaccine. No official decision has been released.
As of late March, government sources told the BBC that they were looking at the use of cards that provide negative tests and/or vaccination certificates for entry into pubs. Now, a recent report by The Telegraph suggests Johnson is surging ahead with the plan, with the FA Cup Final and World Snooker Championship being involved in pilot schemes for use of vaccine passports.
The government claims that the passports may be important in the protection of people within the country, and would give establishment owners the final say over who enters. Boris Johnson also stated the idea “should not be totally alien to us”, seeing as they are used in the context of other infectious diseases.
The idea was not received well by Members of Parliament and the opposition party – with former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, former Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, and more than 70 other MPs joining a campaign to oppose their use. Their reasoning is that a vaccine passport is divisive and unfair when many have not been offered the vaccine. It would also require mindfulness of people who are unable to receive a jab due to medical circumstances.
Labour leader Kier Starmer recently opposed the idea, with a public statement claiming that a vaccine passport would be against "British instinct". It is unclear how vaccine passports will proceed in the UK, but it appears all but certain they will play some role in border control, and likely in smaller operations too.
As of March 4, the PM announced he was ditching the plan to utilize vaccine passports in pubs, which will only be used in large gatherings and indoor events.
Vaccine passports in the US
Vaccine passports in some areas of the US are at a far more advanced stage, with both electronic and paper versions rolled out to people in New York who wish to travel, and other areas continue to work on the same idea. The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) currently provides a small vaccine report card as proof of vaccination after getting a shot, and there has been talk of it being used for international travel. Alternatively, various airlines are now creating travel passes, such as that of the International Air Transport Association Travel Pass, which would contain vaccine information of the passenger prior to boarding a flight.
President Joe Biden’s administration continues work with private companies on a standardized way of presenting vaccine information, but decline to provide much information on their plans. All that has been said so far is that they will work to create guidance through the CDC to create a centralized database of vaccine credentials.
“Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said at a March 12 briefing.
Republican figures and news outlets condemned the plans, stating a vaccine passport would be "Orwellian" and further push people away from receiving their jab.