COVID Immunity passports could provide much-needed reassurances to businesses, employers, colleagues, transport companies, airlines, local communities and policymakers. However, some are debating civil liberties and health data could be biased. And then there are those that believe that not offering immunity passports is unethical and holding an economy back by months if not years. The Freelance Informer reports.
The UK Health minister, Nadhim Zahawi, who will oversee the rollout of the Covid vaccine in England, has said that hospitality and entertainment venues may insist on seeing proof of vaccination. This has sparked much debate, with MP ‘Scotch Egg’ Michael Gove, insisting there was no plan to introduce any form of special identification for those who get the jab.
“I certainly am not planning to introduce any vaccine passports, and I don’t know anyone else in government who is,” he told Sky News.
Despite what Gove says, the NHS is already making a move.
COVID-19 Digital Staff Passport
NHS staff undergo rigorous pre-employment checks before they begin work to ensure they can provide safe care for patients.
To support the COVID-19 response, an interim COVID-19 Digital Staff Passport has been developed to enable safe and rapid staff movements between NHS organisations and furthers the Chief People Officer’s commitment to ‘NHS Passports’ to help staff work flexibly and cut admin costs.
The new COVID-19 Digital Staff Passport provides a legal framework based upon the Enabling Staff Movement Toolkit for staff and bank workers to be deployed into other NHS organisations and speeds up the sharing of information, allowing staff to move promptly and with ease.
“The information is transferred securely by the staff member through their own smartphone, putting them in control,” according to the NHS.
For more information visit the supporting Digital Staff Passport website at www.beta.staffpassports.nhs.uk.
Denmark taking action
Other countries are already taking action. For example, Denmark’s Ministry of Health has confirmed it is working on a Covid-19 ‘vaccine passport’, which would be used to prove vaccination against the virus.
Although Denmark’s health minister, Magnus Heunicke, has not officially confirmed what the purpose of such documentation would be, the Confederation of Danish Industry has said it would allow the economy to open more quickly if proof of vaccination could be used to access events like concerts or certain types of business.
Nothing new, so what’s the fuss?
The concept of vaccine passports is nothing new, says Prof Ilan Kelman, Professor of Disasters and Health, University College London.
“Vaccine passports or similar are not a new idea. One of the many initiatives which successfully eradicated smallpox was the requirement for a vaccination in order to travel. Today, when travelling from and to places at risk of yellow fever, proof of vaccination is sometimes required. To enter some countries, proof of a polio vaccination is still needed,” says Kelman.
The big difference here is proof of vaccination for daily, local activities, which Kelman says resurges a debate which is long-standing such as mandatory MMR vaccinations to attend school.
“This issue was reinvigorated last year after a measles outbreak at London schools and some places do have mandatory measles vaccinations for children attending school.”
Kelman continues: “A proviso is if it turns out that there might be some certified medical reasons for being unable to take the vaccine. A system of verifiable exceptions would be needed. As the minister indicates, for people who choose not to take a vaccine, then they can also choose not to participate in activities which demand it.”
Immunity passports: the ethics argument
“It is unethical NOT to offer immunity passports,” says Prof Julian Savulescu, Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics, and Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, and Co-Director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics and Humanities, University of Oxford.
“It is like imprisonment without just cause.”
He adds, “Additionally, if we don’t grant freedoms to the naturally immune, it will be difficult to ethically justify giving freedoms to the vaccinated, unless there are differences on transmissibility.”
Digital health passports
“Digital health passports may contribute to the long-term management of the COVID-19 pandemic, but their introduction poses essential questions for the protection of data privacy and human rights,” according to Dr Ana Beduschi, from the University of Exeter Law School, who is the principal investigator of a project on digital health passports, funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research & Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.
“These passports build on sensitive personal health information to create a new distinction between individuals based on their health status, which can then be used to determine the degree of freedoms and rights they may enjoy,” she says.
Prof Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, says: “When Mr Zahawi says “And, of course, a way of people being able to inform their GP that they have been vaccinated” this is extremely important and major efforts have been made to ensure that vaccination status gets back to the GP record. This will be vital for carrying out surveillance of the vaccine for any extremely rare adverse effects, as well as checking on its effectiveness in preventing disease when used in actual practice rather than in a controlled trial.”
Evans says that “’immunity passports’ is an idea that has been suggested, but has problems. 1) it will be the very elderly and vulnerable who are vaccinated first and they do not access businesses a lot.; health workers might find it useful. 2) we do not know how long immunity will last 3) many in the community, especially younger people, may not get the opportunity to be vaccinated in the first few months after rollout.
“Whether the gains will be greater than the problems is unknown,” he says.
Where would vaccine passports be issued?
GPs, health clinics and other health practitioners that administer the jabs may also be in a position to issue proof of a vaccine once the full dose has been given. How that would work in the guise of a digital vaccine passport, is yet to be reported.
Martini says that it important to understand the vaccine trials have only proved they reduce the likelihood of developing Covid-19 and ease the severity of symptoms. “It’s not yet known how they affect transmission,” he says.
“What’s needed right now is a comprehensive vaccination programme that works for the benefit of all,” says Martini.
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