Dear Govt, Give ‘Vaccine Passports’ to Cut Costs and Hesitancy

Rs 18,000 crore of wasteful expenses can be avoided if we allow ‘vaccine passport’ as a substitute for RT-PCR test!

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3 min read

Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Vivek Gupta
Cameraperson: Shivkumar Maurya

I got my first jab in early March. Excitedly, I exhorted the government to 'give me a vaccine passport'. However, I got a bit of pushback from readers who berated me for "being half knowledgeable". My readers had misunderstood what I was asking for.

So, what is a ‘vaccine passport’? It’s a legal authorisation that permits the holder to, say, travel or sit among people at a restaurant or cricket stadium because they’ve undergone a medical procedure that has significantly lowered the risk of getting or transmitting the COVID-19 virus.

Now, what is an RT-PCR test? When the rules say, “you'll have to produce a negative report before you can enter Mumbai or a mall or a film shoot", you are already using the negative RT-PCR test report as a 'vaccine passport', isn’t it? So, you see, the 'vaccine passport' is almost as old as the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, no need to be scared of the unknown here.

Objections to Issuing a 'Vaccine Passport'

There are two principal objections to issuing a 'vaccine passport'.

  1. People say it’s discriminatory, since you would be compelling those who may be medically unfit or are "conscientious objectors, anti-vaxxers". But that’s misplaced, because anybody who doesn't want or is unable to take the shot can still get their passport via the negative RT-PCR test; so nobody is denied nothing.
  2. The second objection, that "you could still be a carrier after being vaccinated" is impractically hypothetical. Now consider this – you could pick up the infection in the 72 hours between taking the RT-PCR test and alighting at Mumbai airport. So, if that's a 'low-probability event', then equally, we should accept that the you-are-vaccinated-but-could-get-infected situation as highly unlikely, that is, at an acceptable threshold of risk.

Upsides of Issuing a 'Vaccine Passport'

Now, let me prove to you that there isn't a single downside to 'vaccine passports', but significant upsides!

  • We're days away from hitting the 10 crore vaccination mark – almost one in every four vulnerable adults would be reasonably protected.
  • If 1 crore of these people want to travel overseas, they would have to take at least two domestic RT-PCR tests. 2 crore tests x Rs 1,000 = Rs 2,000 crore
  • If 2 crore of these people want to travel within India, that would mean another 8 crore tests – that is, Rs 8,000 crore.
  • Include a weekend outing to the mall or Sunday matinee show for lockdown-aggrieved citizens. Eight crore more tests and another Rs 8,000 crore.
So, nearly Rs 18,000 crore of wasteful expenses can be avoided if we just allow the vaccine certificate to substitute for the RT-PCR test! The minute we do that, people will see the advantages of getting vaccinated – and this will be far more potent in overcoming hesitancy than ads and jingles with Bachchan, Khan, Kohli, Taapsee Pannu or maybe Kangana?

Anyway, seriously, Israel, EU, Thailand, New York, Japan…all are energetically rolling out 'vaccine passports'. So, c’mon India, don’t be flat-footed in this critical race to tame the virus.

Postscript: Let me reiterate. All 'vaccine passport' holders shall be required to wear masks and scrupulously observe all safety protocols.

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