WHO says that vaccine passports should not be permitted for foreign travel - the UK’s stance explained

By Rhona Shennan
Thursday, 25th February 2021, 12:11 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th February 2021, 12:11 pm
WHO has said that the likes of vaccine passports should not be implemented for international travellers (Photo: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)
WHO has said that the likes of vaccine passports should not be implemented for international travellers (Photo: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP via Getty Images)

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that the likes of vaccine passports should not be implemented for international travellers.

The interim position paper said: “At the present time, it is WHO’s position that national authorities and conveyance operators should not introduce requirements of proof of Covid-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry, given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.

“In addition, considering that there is limited availability of vaccines, preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe Covid-19 disease.

“WHO also recommends that people who are vaccinated should not be exempt from complying with other travel risk reduction measures.”

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    Review into vaccine passports

    Michael Gove has been tasked with leading a review into the potential use of vaccine passports as part of the road map to easing England’s Covid-19 lockdown.

    The concept of vaccine passports has repeatedly been dismissed by senior officials, including the Government's vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi.

    However, after announcing the roadmap on Monday (22 Feb), Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that a study into the use of vaccine and testing certificates will be one of four reviews conducted as part of easing the current restrictions.

    He said that while the rollout of the vaccination programme continues across the UK, he wanted to see a “proper review” into the issue.

    Johnson said: “That’s going to be led by Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who will be getting the best scientific, moral, philosophical, ethical viewpoints on it and will work out a way forward.”

    ‘Vaccine passports for international travel’

    Johnson said that the use of vaccine passports for international travel was more than likely.

    He said: “When you look at the international side of things, international travel, there’s no question that’s where a lot of people, a lot of countries will be going.

    “They will be insisting on vaccine passports in the way that people used to insist on evidence that you’ve been inoculated against Yellow Fever or whatever.”

    Some other countries around the world have already started working towards introducing these kinds of measures.

    In Greece, the Prime Minister has urged the European Commission to introduce a certificate that would allow “the freedom of movement of persons who have been vaccinated”. In Estonia, the UN’s WHO health agency is working to implement an e-vaccination certificate, also known as a “smart yellow card”.

    Denmark is also developing a digital vaccine passport.

    ‘Scope for vaccine passports’

    Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said that, in the same way that Yellow Fever certificates exist for travel to some countries, “there may well be scope for vaccination giving people the ability to do certain things that, without vaccination, they might not be able to do”.

    Sturgeon added: “We need to understand, as I have talked about in other contexts, exactly what protection vaccination gives people against getting or passing on the virus, and then we need to think about the ethical issues.

    “What would be reasonable to say could be accessed by someone who has a vaccine certificate, and what would be unreasonable? Some people cannot get vaccinated for reasons that are beyond their control, and there are other ethical issues that arise from that.”

    In response to another question about vaccine certificates, Sturgeon said that she would “never support something that deepened social inequalities”.

    She said: “Yes, we should think properly, without closing our minds at this stage, about what a vaccine passport or certificate might offer us, but I would never support something that deepened social inequalities, put barriers in the way of people accessing public services or took away people’s civil liberties.

    “We have to thin through the practicalities and ethics, and, whatever direction we take, we have to make sure that we have a broad consensus across the country behind it.”