A passenger wearing a face mask shows an employee her passport and boarding pass at a security checkpoint at El Dorado International Airport in Bogota on September 1, 2020.

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LONDON – Public health officials and civil liberties organizations are calling on policymakers to oppose calls for coronavirus vaccine passports at a time when many countries are considering adopting digital passports.

The US, UK and European Union are among other things considering introducing a digital passport that citizens can use to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.

The certificate system can be used for travel abroad as well as for access to venues such as restaurants and bars.

It is believed that a digital passport could contribute to an economic recovery as countries prepare to ease public health measures in the coming weeks. The ailing aviation industry, which was particularly badly affected by the spread of the virus last year, is calling on governments, among other things, to introduce laws that support Covid vaccination certificates.

However, doctors and rights groups are deeply concerned.

Dr. Deepti Gurdasani, clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, told CNBC over the phone that vaccination records could be inadvertently used to give “false assurances” to vacationers.

“I can see that they might be useful in the longer term, but I have some concerns that if I think the scientific evidence doesn’t support them at this point, I have some concerns that they will be considered. And there are many ethical concerns about me consider that to be legitimate, “Gurdasani said on Thursday.

Amid these scientific concerns, Gurdasani said it was clear that the protection offering for coronavirus vaccines was “far from complete” and “we know very little about the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing infections or even asymptomatic diseases different variants circulating in different countries. “

In addition, most countries do not have sufficient access to vaccines to immunize their populations, and Gurdasani warned that a certification system similar to vaccination passports would “further” discriminate against these populations.

Vacation plans

President Joe Biden outlined a 200-page national strategy for a coronavirus pandemic on his first full day in office last month. The plan included guideline for several government agencies to evaluate “the feasibility” of linking Covid shots to international vaccination certificates and creating digital versions of them.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also ordered a vaccine passport review while the European Council will meet on Thursday to discuss the next steps in introducing and moving vaccines across the EU across the 27-nation bloc.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets 11th grade students during a visit to Accrington Academy on February 25, 2021 in Lancaster, England. (Photo by Anthony Devlin – WPA Pool / Getty Images)

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With the International Air Travel Association, which represents around 290 airlines from all over the world, more and more airlines have registered for the so-called IATA Travel Pass. The initiative is designed to help passengers manage their travel plans and provide evidence to airlines and governments that they have been vaccinated or tested for Covid-19.

In a letter from EURACTIV, IATA reportedly called on the EU leaders’ meeting on Thursday to approve vaccination records and reach an agreement “on the critical role of secure digital solutions like the IATA passport”. IATA wasn’t immediately available for comment when it was contacted by CNBC on Thursday.

The World Health Organization is currently not interested in vaccination certificates. In a statement released Jan. 28, WHO officials said governments should “not introduce requirements for proof of vaccination or immunity for international travel as a condition of entry” at this time.

The United Nations Health Department added, “There are still critical unknowns about the effectiveness of vaccination in reducing transmission and the limited availability of vaccines.”

“What happens to everyone else?”

A report released last month by the Economist Intelligence Unit forecast that most of the adult populations in advanced economies would be vaccinated by the middle of next year. In contrast, this period extends to early 2023 for many middle-income countries and even until 2024 for some low-income countries.

It highlights the large gap between high and low income countries when it comes to access to vaccines.

“These so-called passports claim they will ensure that those who can prove they have coronavirus immunity can get back to normal life. Which begs the question – what happens to everyone else?” Liberty, the UK’s largest civil liberties organization, said in a press release earlier this month.

Airport workers unload a shipment of Covid-19 vaccines from Covax’s global Covid-19 vaccination program at Kotoka International Airport in Accra on February 24, 2021.

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“There are innumerable proposals for immunity passports around. Some suggest that their use would be limited to international travel – others are less specific. In the meantime, various technologies have been introduced, from QR codes to apps and physical cards,” he said the explanation continues.

“One thing that every proposal has overlooked is that it is impossible to have immunity passports that don’t lead to human rights abuses.”

Big Brother Watch, a UK-based rights and democracy group, also warned against the use of vaccination cards, citing implications for privacy and freedom of movement, among other things.

What happens next?

In a report published February 14 by the Science in Emergencies Tasking: Covid-19 (SET-C) group of the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of science, university professors outlined 12 questions that needed to be met To achieve this, provide a vaccination certificate.

This included: taking into account the differences between vaccines in terms of their effectiveness and changes in effectiveness against newly emerging Covid variants, international standardization, security of personal data, compliance with legal standards and compliance with ethical standards.

“Understanding what a vaccination card can be used for is a fundamental question – is it literally a passport to allow international travel, or could it be used domestically to give holders greater freedom?” Professor Melinda Mills, director of the Leverhulme Center for Demographic Science at Oxford University, said in the report.

“We need a wider discussion of various aspects of a vaccination record, from the science of immunity to privacy to technical challenges and the ethics and legality of its use,” said Mills.