Over the past few months, the vaccine rollout has continued to pick up steam. In fact,  the government now projects a shot will be available to anyone who wants it by May 1.

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hand with smartphone holding vaccine passport in city

It finally seems like we may get this pandemic under control.

The travel industry is abuzz with this great news, as well as news of the development of vaccine passports. Vaccine passports will likely come in the form of an app on your Smartphone, that stores your vaccination record and  protects your private information. Such a pass will allow you to quickly show immigration and customs officials at airports and train stations around the world your “fully vaccinated” status and move freely across borders.

Some countries already signaled that they may require proof of full vaccination for entry. While most of the news has been overwhelmingly positive, it’s true that a vaccine passport requirement comes with some pretty serious ethical baggage. Some people say a vaccine passport could end up dividing the world into “haves and have nots,” across borders and class lines.

  1. What if your country hasn’t made vaccinations available to citizens yet?
  2. What if you don’t own a smartphone?
  3. Is it a violation of privacy to allow businesses access to your private health information?
  4. What if your health condition makes you ineligible for a vaccination?
  5. What about virus mutations? Will that complicate passports?
  6. How secure will the passports be and who will have access to this information?
  7. What if you’re from a marginalized group where “vaccine skepticism is pervasive based on historical precedent?”
  8. Do the passports give people a false sense of security?

Let’s dig into each of these questions one at a time.

What if your country hasn’t made vaccinations available to all citizens yet?

Some projections say entire regions won’t have vaccines widely available for years. Is it ethical to penalize citizens who happen to be from poor countries or from one with a less aggressive rollout plan? Imagine you need to travel internationally this August to a country like Australia for a family emergency. What if the government there will only allow you to visit with a vaccine passport?

If you live in the United States, you had your shots in the spring. If you live in many parts of Asia or Africa, the first opportunity for you might not be until 2022. Even in a country like Italy, if you are young and healthy (i.e. not not in a priority group), you might have a long wait.

Can a country require you to be vaccinated or deny you entry? Right now, many countries still permit travel without vaccination – you’re just required to self-isolate on arrival. If vaccine passports become widely available, will countries forgo this workaround? It seems unlikely to be the case but we are following this story closely.

What if you do not own a smartphone?

This could become a big problem. Only a little over a third of people in the world own a Smartphone (with growing numbers). In the United States, almost 82% of the adult population owns a smartphone. But all of the vaccine passports in development leverage the use of smartphone apps. We imagine an option for users who don’t own a smartphone. Otherwise, a full ⅔ of the world’s cell phone users will not be able to access. Would they get left behind?

Is it a violation of privacy to allow businesses access to your private health information?

The question of cybersecurity and privacy concerns come up all the time, as people post selfies of themselves with their vaccine cards on social media. People continue to raise alarms about sharing images of the card, since it can be easily doctored. Scam artists sell vaccine cards to folks who may not want the vaccine but want the seal of approval (for work or travel).

If we allow airlines and hotels access to digital health information is this a violation of strict HIPAA rules about who can have access to your health info? Can the government compel you to share this information at all? The jury is still out.

What if your health condition makes you ineligible for a vaccination?

Some people with serious health conditions or allergies may not be able to get vaccinated for critical reasons. Will vaccine passports create complications for those people or will governments come up with a list of exemptions for those who require it?

What about virus mutations? Will that complicate passports?

Vaccine passports as well as additional vaccines are in various stages of development. Recent rumblings suggest virus mutations coming down the pike may compel people who’ve been part of the early vaccination rollout to return or get a “booster” shot. If necessary, this process helps fold in the new risk factors of mutating virus.

On the other hand, the experts say that COVID-19 vaccinations may follow the flu season vaccination model. As the flu mutates each year, vaccinations get tweaked to reflect new strains. People who want a flu vaccine must re-up each year to keep themselves completely covered.

Any vaccine passport in development needs built-in adaptability for these potential scenarios.

How secure will the passports be and who will have access to this information?

The United States needs to adopt a plan for vaccine passport information but we’re still in the planning phase. Will departments of motor vehicles take on the tracking and warehousing of this information? Will there be a national storehouse created so the federal government owns the role of keeping citizens’ information safe? Governments all over the world are grappling with this question – it’s not just us. Who will be responsible for this sensitive information?

Should members of marginalized groups be required to participate in vaccination before they are ready to satisfy an international guideline?

What if you’re from a marginalized group where “vaccine skepticism” is pervasive? In the United States for instance, widespread skepticism about vaccines and medical procedures occurs in the African-American population. Historically, African-Americans have a fraught relationship with the medical community that often used them as test subjects without their knowledge.

Do the passports give people a false sense of security?

And finally, what about people who think being fully vaccinated and holding a vaccine passport means they can abandon all masking protocols and return to a free and open world? Is this the case?

The truth is that the vaccine rollout is in its infancy. Before we know for sure how long a vaccination will keep you well, we still have a lot of data to collect. And whether or not the fully vaccinated can spread the disease to the unvaccinated remains to be seen.

So what do you think? Are vaccine passports a good idea for international travel or would you prefer to make a vaccination call on your own/self-quarantine on arrival? Would you be okay with a 10-day quarantine if you decided not to get vaccinated or would not getting vaccinated make you less likely to travel internationally to a place that requires vaccination? What other issues surrounding vaccine passports can you think of? How likely would you be to use a vaccine passport to house your vaccination records?

Sound off in our comments below.

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