As the conceptualization of vaccine passports gains global prominence, the World Health Organization (WHO) has advised against the notion of requiring proof of vaccination to travel.
Vaccine passports are commonly revered as the ticket to restart travel and national economies through the verification of vaccination status.
International governments are adopting the method in a bid to track immunization among citizens and potentially lift pandemic-induced restrictions. However, for it to be used effectively on an international scale would pose various challenges.
In a press briefing on Monday (3/8), Executive Director of Health Emergencies at WHO, Dr. Michael Ryan, said that vaccine passports should not be used as a requisite for travel due to “real practical and ethical concerns.”
Ryan argued that because vaccines are not yet universally accessible, such a condition would not be feasible at this time.
“At the present time, the use of certification of vaccination as a requirement for travel is not advised, because quite simply, vaccination is just not available enough around the world and is not available certainly on an equitable basis,” Ryan said.
He pointed out various reasons that would prevent one from attaining a vaccine passport, such as inaccessibility of vaccines in their country of residence, conflicting medical conditions, or freedom of choice; Therefore, citizens to obtain services such as airline flights contingent on proof of vaccination would ultimately lead to a two-tier society.
In this regard, Dr. Ryan stated:
“I think there are real practical and ethical considerations that countries will have to address, because if access to vaccines is inequities, then inequity and unfairness can be further branded into the system if we continue to make decisions on what people can and can’t do, where they can and can’t go, on the basis of being vaccinated, when being vaccination itself is not something that everyone has equal access to.”
Integration of Digital Vaccine Certification in the Future of Healthcare
In the same interval, Dr. Ryan said that the actualization of a digital vaccine certification, starting with COVID-19, would serve as an asset to public health architecture – if meeting the global standard.
WHO is currently developing the technical and functional use of such; however, Ryan reiterated that WHO supports the tool for the purpose of measuring vaccination status and not for allowing or prohibiting certain societal activities.
Although WHO cautions against the use of vaccine certificates as a means to restart international travel, the organization believes that individually-held digital vaccination records present a number of advantages such as individual record-keeping, authentication, and facilitation across the healthcare system, yet to be effectively enforced, must uphold a standard of safety, data protection, and global recognition.
Vaccine Passports on a Global Scale
Countries with high vaccination counts have already developed or are currently developing some form of vaccine passport to systemize verification and resume economic activity such as aviation.
Millions of Israelis are already utilizing the nation’s green passport to access communal events and services. Denmark and Poland are in the final phases, while the EU came to an affirmative decision earlier this month.
However, as each platform differs from the other in technical and practical use, it’s too early to assess how this system would interconnect effectively on a global scale.
Does Vaccination Stop Transmission?
One of the underlying concerns around vaccination is whether those who have been vaccinated can still pass on the virus to non-vaccinated people.
According to the FDA, the scientific community does not yet know if the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will reduce transmission. The same is the case with other approved vaccines until proven otherwise.
As there is no current evidence to suggest that any of the approved vaccines can entirely block transmission, there are implications in the prospect of reaching herd immunity.
Types of Immunity
There are two principal types of immunity vaccines can achieve. One is referred to as effective immunity, which can stop a pathogen from causing severe disease, however, it cannot block it from entering the body or duplicating itself. The second is sterilizing immunity, which blocks infections completely while also preventing asymptomatic conditions. Sterilizing immunity is the ultimate aim of vaccine research, yet is seldom achieved.
So far, the COVID-19 vaccines currently available have not been focused primarily on the ability to prevent transmission, but rather to prevent symptoms from developing.
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