With less than 4 percent of the population fully vaccinated, India firmly opposed the adoption of COVID-19 vaccine passports at the G7 meeting of health ministers on 5 June, stating that the initiative could prove to be “hugely discriminatory.”
This comes at a time when several countries are considering reopening their borders, in light of receding COVID-19 cases in their areas.
What are vaccine passports? Why is India against the idea? Here’s all you need to know.
What is a vaccine passport?
A vaccine passport is a digital document that will function as valid certification that a person has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Since it proves that an individual is ‘safe’, it will allow them to travel and gain access to physical spaces.
Is India planning to bring in this system in the near future?
No, it does not look like it. Expressing concerns over the idea at a G-7 summit, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the vaccine passport system would be discriminatory as developing countries are recording low levels of vaccination, amid issues of equitable access.
“Considering the fact of lower levels of vaccination of the population in developing countries, in contrast to the developed countries, and given the still unaddressed issues related to equitable and affordable access, supply, and distribution of safe and effective vaccines, India would propose that implementation of vaccine passport will be hugely discriminatory and disadvantageous to the developing countries,” Vardhan said.
What is the WHO’s stand on vaccine passports?
The World Health Organization (WHO) is not in favour of making vaccine passports mandatory, citing that COVID-19 vaccines are still not available across the globe.
“Vaccination is just not available enough around the world and is not available certainly on an equitable basis," WHO Emergencies Chief Dr Michael Ryan said. The organisation has previously noted that it's still unknown how long immunity lasts from the numerous licensed COVID-19 vaccines and that data is still being collected.
WHO also suggested that vaccine passports should not give people the idea that they are exempt from taking precautions against COVID-19 – masking up, maintaining hand hygiene, and physical distancing.
What are the benefits of the system?
Ideally, the presentation of such a digital certificate would allow people to prove themselves to be ‘safe ’and to bypass mandatory quarantine requirements. Essentially, it would serve as a way to loosen current restrictions on travel and access to facilities. It would also relax the requirement in many countries that require arriving passengers to test negative for the virus.
If a standardised and widely accepted pass emerges, it would eliminate the need to carry physical documentation and grant credibility to the online certification.
But what happens if the country I am flying to mandates it?
In that case, you can download your vaccine certificate from the CoWIN platform. You may even need it to apply for visa, in some cases.
Are vaccine passports mandatory to travel to the United Kingdom or United States?
Not at the moment. Neither country has made a formal announcement about this with regard to India. Watch out this space for more updates.
The National Health Service (NHS) app will provide vaccine passports for citizens of the United Kingdom, which will be recognised for people travelling to Barbados, Croatia, Greece, Turkey, Gibraltar, Iceland, Moldova, Bulgaria, and Estonia, reported WION.
The US introduced its first vaccine passport called the ‘Excelsior Pass’ in New York, on 5 June. The ‘passport’ is essentially a QR code that can be scanned to reveal an individual’s vaccination status. But some have deemed it an invasion of privacy.
Which countries are using vaccine passports?
- Israel was the first country to bring this system into use. A person with a Vaccine Passport could access workplaces, restaurants, hotels, gyms, etc.
- The European Union plans on launching their COVID-19 certificate with a scan-able QR code on 1 July. The certificate will show the individual’s vaccination status, whether they have recovered from COVID and have immunity, or the result of their COVID test.
- Greece revealed their vaccine certificate on 28 May, with plans to start the programme sooner than the EU system.
- Vaccinated people in Chile can download a pass on their phone to roam about freely in cities under lockdown.
Do I need to be fully vaccinated to travel abroad?
This depends on the country you are travelling to. Check out the rules in individual countries before booking your tickets, once international travel opens.
I am fully vaccinated and need a certificate. Will I get it?
All persons who have been fully vaccinated can download their certificates from Co-WIN.
Persons undertaking international travel for educational purposes, or employment opportunities, or as part of India's contingent for Tokyo Olympic games have to get their CoWIN certificates linked to their passport, the Centre said on 7 June.