The vaccine passport divide

First it was masks. Then summer vacationsthe holidays and, most recently, jumping the vaccine line. Now, the next major pandemic flash point could be vaccine passports.

The idea is that governments will issue documents or phone badges that demonstrate that people have been inoculated against the coronavirus, allowing them access to flights, businesses and other areas of public life. Vaccine passports have already been initiated to some extent in Israel, and are under discussion in the European Union, the United States, and among airlines and tourism-related sectors around the world.
But the idea presents sticky ethical and practical risks for governments and organizations, which my colleague Max Fisher explored in the Interpreter column.
There are clear upsides to the passports. They could help economies to restart, families and friends to reunite and allow for some degree of normalcy to return. They may enable more sporting events, concerts, cultural events, parties, international travel and tourism. Businesses would be able reopen without putting employees or customers at undue risk. Many experts say they will be an inevitable part of post-pandemic life.
But dividing the world into vaccinated and unvaccinated people could also widen socioeconomic and racial gaps. Privileges for the vaccinated would favor groups that are inoculated at higher rates, which in the Western world tend to be white and wealthy.
It could also lead to prejudices and discrimination against groups that are perceived to have lower vaccination rates, experts say, similar to racial profiling.
The passports may also create huge inequalities among nations. Most vaccines have gone to rich countries, and it may be two or three years before vaccines reach poorer countries, essentially blocking their citizens from traveling abroad.
A complex set of rules that govern the passports will also need to be sorted out, said Nicole A. Errett, a University of Washington public health expert. Do Russian- or Chinese-made vaccines qualify? What are the rules for religious or medical opt-outs? Are restrictions in place until herd immunity is reached, or forever?
The first steps. Cyprus announced today that it plans to allow vaccinated residents of Britain to visit the island beginning in May.




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