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Will the Vaccination Passport be the way out of the COVID-19 pandemic?

12 March 2021

Israel is one of the first countries worldwide to implement a COVID-19 vaccination passport - the ‘Green Pass’ – which allows its possessors to enjoy a relatively normal life with visits to restaurants, bars, and cinemas. Countries such as Denmark and Germany are working on their digital versions of a vaccination passport. However, there is a global discussion going on about the implementation of such vaccination passports.

In their article, Dr Oskar Josef Gstrein, Prof. Dimitry Vladimirovich Kochenov and Prof. Andrej Zwitter research the opportunities and drawbacks of the ‘passportization’ approach to governing the current health emergency. The research shows that it remains unlikely that vaccination passports alone will be the main strategy to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

New vaccins, new inequalities

The availability of effective vaccines seems good news, however, there are fears across the European Union that countries might be using vaccines as a political tool. Also, vaccination passports make border crossing more difficult rather than simplifying it, as many argue. Introducing vaccination passports during the crisis of free movement of persons in Europe could result in further complications and fragmentations of the EU’s aim of a single working and living space.

The research team further elaborates that the distribution of vaccines is highly unequal. This will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. In fact, people with e.g. allergies might never be able to enjoy immunity to the virus. Combining the unequal distribution of vaccines with vaccination passports, society will face new inequalities.

'Mass surveillance'

Additionally, research shows that questions surrounding the duration of immunity and the efficacy of different vaccines against different strains will lead to quite unequal vaccine passports. Gstrein, Kochenov & Zwitter outline the dangers of a new wave of ‘mass surveillance’, stigmatisation and discrimination, especially since the inoculation efforts are increasingly becoming politicized.

In conclusion: the technological development and design is already a complex task, but can only succeed if the ethical, social and legal aspects are fully addressed in detail. Most crucially – and against the background of the constantly present threat of introducing new cleavages into society, which is inherent in any ‘passportization’ – vaccination passports relate to a set of complex questions to be answered. Answers are not as straightforward as they first seem.

Download the full report: A Terrible Great Idea? COVID-19 ‘Vaccination Passports’ in the Spotlight

Last modified:17 March 2021 1.48 p.m.

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