Durham, NC – As more people around the world are vaccinated against coronavirus, the term “vaccine passport” causes someone to demonstrate their immunized status when traveling or attending a major event, traction in some places and creating controversy in others.
Airlines and the UK government are testing the digital documents, while Republican governors in several US states have banned them, calling them a threat to personal freedom and privacy.
Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University and founding director of Duke Science & Society, said Wednesday that the benefits of a vaccine pass far outweigh the risks.
Unlike the vaccines that most children must receive before enrolling in school, she said the coronavirus vaccines are not widely available, nor are any of them formally approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – all administered in case of emergency approvals.
Making vaccination a condition of being able to go to a restaurant or a workplace or board a plane “protects people from being research participants,” she said, noting that Moderna still collects health information about her seven months after she participated in one of its vaccine clinical trials.
Vaccine passports also give people a false sense of security, she said, as health experts are not sure how easily people who have been immunized can spread the virus to others, including children.
Another problem is equity, Farahany said. Many people in poorer areas have less access to vaccinations than others, she said, which would put them at financial disadvantage if a vaccine passport were required for certain activities.
“If we condition participation in society based on access to a vaccine,” she said, “I see a growing gap. Jobs lost during the pandemic are now going to people who had access to the vaccine.”
Privacy concerns also need to be addressed, Farahany said.
The vaccine pass concept started when the simple vaccination cards people got after their first shot so they could accurately plan their second dose based on what vaccine they got. But because these were easily forged, especially after people posted photos of their cards with all the identifying information, on social media, various technology companies said they could provide a digital document.
Transferring people’s vaccination status to private companies that are not bound by health protection standards could open the door to pass on more biometric information to these companies later, Farahady said.
“It’s not just whether we have information that is stored and shared with others. It’s the context in which we share [and] who has access to it, “she said. In case of emergencies and in times of crisis, the times we have given up are the most rights and then we can never get them back. “