A COVID-19 Vaccination Passport - Yes or No?

With COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out across the world, there is some hope for most people to be vaccinated by end of 2022. In several countries, government leaders believe that creating a vaccine passport will be an important measure to introduce as our “ticket to normalcy”.

In this article, we will briefly discuss the arguments both for and against the implementation of this vaccine passport.


What is a vaccine passport?

Simply put, a vaccine passport is an accessible document that is used as a proof of vaccination/immunization and could be used for domestic or international travel. A similar type of passport was considered during the bubonic plague of the 1890s in British-India although then, as now, the idea was controversial. In fact, the 1890s passport was eventually rejected.

Vaccinations are arguably the most crucial and important nation-wide task of 2021, and possibly 2022. While it is important to undergo these large vaccine rollouts, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that, currently, it is still unclear to what degree vaccines stop or reduce the transmission of COVID-19. If scientific evidence shows that the vaccine does reduce transmission, this strengthens the arguments for using a vaccine passport as a prudent safety measure. If the level of transmission reduction remains uncertain, then the value of a passport is reduced.

Arguments for the passport

An argument for the passport is that it helps clarify the immunization status of travelers both domestically and internationally and thereby helps protect other travelers and citizens in areas being visited; those with no proof of vaccination will not be able to travel.

In Canada, Section 6 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that we have the right to mobility. We have the right to enter, leave or remain in Canada, and the right to inter-provincial mobility. However, those rights may be attenuated if they put others at risk. If travel is forced to be halted or reduced due to the risk of transmission, then one way to allow travel is for travelers to be vaccinated and be able to provide proof. This could work both domestically and internationally.

Carrying the idea of a passport a little further, there is the thought that, like school-aged children who need proof of vaccination to attend classes, employers may require employees to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to return to workplaces. Many workplaces already require tuberculosis testing, and some may see COVID-19 in the same light; it is simply a way to ensure workplaces remain as safe as possible for all concerned.

Challenges to the idea of passports

One argument against the vaccine passport has to do with the concept of herd immunity, which occurs when approximately 50-67% of a population has been immunized. At this level of immunization, the population of the region should be safer, thus reducing the need for vaccine passports.

However, the more controversial aspects of the passport revolve around privacy. In the US, the governors of Florida and Texas have signed executive orders to ban any usage and requirement of these passports. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis cited personal freedom and said such passports would "create two classes of citizens based on vaccinations." Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated, "Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives.”

An argument can be made that it is not about revealing private health information or creating two separate classes of citizens, rather it is more about the benefit of society. When health standards are raised, there is a greater chance for health of the community to reach that higher standard. “Privacy rights are not trumps — they have to be balanced with the other goals our society is looking for,” says Colleen Flood, a law professor and research chair of health and law at the University of Ottawa. However, some privacy lawyers take the opposing view, believing that requiring proof of vaccinations is a violation of civil liberties.

This is a controversial but important topic to understand and discuss. The best thing we can do during this time is educate ourselves and be open to reading both sides of the argument, then proceed to choose your stance. As a start, please check out the links provided below.

Please stay safe and well.

This article is written to supply information to its readers and give possible arguments for both sides. It is not intended to impose an opinion.

Author: Ahsan Zaman, Principal Consultant