Digital Vaccination Passport is inevitable

By Patrick Green

As more countries set up requirements to see proof of vaccination for entry, persons who chose not to get vaccinated are getting creative to beat the system. A booming business has sprung up on the internet, where people can purchase fake vaccination cards for between US$25 and $200.

On Tuesday of this week, Guyana’s Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony said that the government is currently investigating around 12 to 15 cases of forged vaccine cards in the country.

In Jamaica, Minister of Health, Dr. Christopher Tufton, said this week that they, “have seen cases of persons allegedly having fake vaccine cards and that [it] is increasingly becoming a challenge.”

Jamaica has now fully committed to implementing a digital COVID-19 vaccination card, which the government said would be available by December. Guyana has also indicated in the past they are willing to go the route of a digital vaccination passport as well, to “get back to normalcy.”

It is no secret that other Caribbean countries are harboring the thought of having digital vaccination cards, to help with forgery and to stay on top of requirements imposed by larger countries.

Barbados was one of the first countries to implement a digital platform to show proof of covid testing.

CARICOM Agreed on Vaccination Passports

At the 42nd regular meeting of the conference of the Heads of Government of CARICOM in July, leaders “agreed to consider the use of a Vaccination Passport for vaccinated persons travelling by air and sea, supported by a Digital Vaccination Database, possibly based on the Barbados model in the first instance.”

There are also reports that the British Virgin Islands (BVI) was unveiling a digital vaccination database that “will be internationally recognized to meet the strict proof-of-vaccination requirements of other countries.”  BVI’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronald George, said: “That the territory’s official vaccination database will ensure that unscrupulous persons will be unable to produce counterfeit copies of them.”

Not Everyone is Onboard With Vaccination Passport

Not everyone seemed to be on board with the digital vaccination, however. In March, Jamaica’s tourism minister, Edmund Bartlett cautioned global leaders about the use of digital passport for travel purposes. Speaking in his capacity as Chair of the Organization of American States (OAS), Inter-American Committee on Tourism (CITUR) Working Group 4 he said: “There can hardly be a harmonized position for digital passports and other bio-sanitary protocols when some countries and regions lag dramatically behind in their health response systems, including the vaccination process. If we remain committed to leaving no one behind, we are best positioned to move farther ahead,” said the Minister. The tourism minister went on to add that: “Any requirement for proof of vaccination for travel which does not take into account this reality could very well be considered discriminatory,”

Mr. Bartlett is not alone in his assertion. Last month, according to US News, the World Health Organization said that vaccination passport would “fuel discrimination” at this stage of the pandemic. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference that vaccine passports should not be used at this time, particularly not as a prerequisite for travel “because of lack of vaccine equity.”  He said however, that “for the future, when vaccine coverage increases globally, it can be considered.”

While Messrs. Bartlett and Ghebreyesus have a genuine point regarding equity, their position is untenable due to the increasing use of mandates to encourage more vaccination. Yes, there is inequity in the procurement and distribution of the vaccine. Yes, there are instance in which it may be discriminative, but the overall health of the world and its economic survival is at stake.

caribbean vaccination ratesAccording to the latest figures from ourworldindata.org, only 46 percent of the world population has received at least one dose of covid-19 vaccine. In low-income countries a meagre 2.3 percent of persons have received the first dose. In the Caribbean, only six countries out of 22 have gone past the 50 percent mark of being fully vaccinated. Cayman Island tops the numbers with 83 percent being fully vaccinated, while anguishing at the bottom of the table are Jamaica and Haiti, two of the most populous Caribbean nations.

Challenges for Caribbean Countries

The conundrum for Caribbean countries is multifold. They all depend on tourism to sustain their economies. To provide tourism services they must ensure that their employees are free from covid. These employees mix with the wider population mostly not inoculated and therefore presents a risk of spreading the virus. These countries have low vaccination rates because they do not have access or funding to procure vaccines, and of course there is the strong resistance from members of their populations. Having a low vaccinated population, risk being placed on travel ban lists, which discourages travelers from coming to their shores. At the same time, the main tourist-supplier nations are increasingly mandating vaccination cards and require proof of vaccination.

Benefits of Vaccination Passport

While the vaccination passports will not solve all the social and economic problems brought on by the pandemic, it does solve headaches associated with administering a sound recovery policy. Firstly, you eliminate or reduce the instances of counterfeit vaccination proofs. Secondly, you ensure that your people can travel to and do business with countries requiring secure proof of vaccination. Thirdly, by blocking the loopholes it may encourage more people to get vaccinated, mitigating the spread of the virus. This includes medical, social, and financial burden. Lastly, with everything going digital now, the passport could also be a replacement for the old yellow booklet used internationally as proof of vaccination against hepatitis, yellow fever, cholera, rabies, and other viral diseases. This will add security to the process and potential savings.

Already some countries are requiring proof to get services. Every Caribbean country in some way has established preferential treatment for vaccinated tourists. As this requirement of ‘proof for service’ spread around the world, it would be more convenient to show proof on you phone, rather than sifting through loads of paper in your purse or wallet.

In the end its virtually a sure bet that vaccination passport will become inevitable.

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