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the caution of the EU in the face of the risks of discrimination

The “vaccine passport” is perceived by several European countries as a means of lifting the restrictions put in place against Covid-19. An initiative that seems premature, due to the low percentage of people vaccinated, the risks of discrimination and the uncertainties related to the degree of protection of vaccines.

Will the “vaccine passport” be the key to getting out of the health crisis? While the pace of vaccinations is accelerating around the world, supporters of the establishment of a system to certify the health status of a vaccinated person are giving voice at the European level. The debates have intensified in Europe, where several governments hope to revive their economies by lifting quarantines and other restrictions related to Covid to any vaccinated traveler.

Iceland is the first European country to issue vaccination certificates at the end of January. Several others have already announced policies in this direction, by issuing or accepting these vaccine passports: Greece, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday that “status certificates” on Covid-19 would be one of the tools used to get out of the health crisis.

Attack on individual freedoms

The implementation of these vaccine passports nevertheless comes up against the reluctance of several members of the European Union (EU), such as France or Germany, who warn against the discrimination that this device would lead to on the fundamental freedoms of individuals. unvaccinated citizens. Concerns relayed in recent days in two studies published in the United Kingdom, the European country most advanced in its vaccination program.

“If some people do not have access to these tests or vaccines against Covid-19, or if they cannot afford them, they will not be able to prove their health status, and their freedoms will be de facto restricted,” says Ana Beduschi, a law professor at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, author of a study on the ethical issues surrounding vaccine passports. His work also highlights data privacy risks.

Another study published on February 19 by the Royal Society concludes that the establishment of vaccination certificates is “feasible” if several key criteria are taken into account. Among the twelve conditions put forward figure in particular the precise definition of the use of these certificates, in order to avoid “discrimination in employment, access to restaurants, health centers, sporting or cultural events, insurance companies, housing inquiries and other services “.

“We do not take a position for or against [les passeports vaccinaux], but we take note that it is in the process of being established. Several countries have already launched them, companies say they will insert them in their contracts. Now we have to talk about it openly, ”says Melinda Mills, director of the Leverhulme Center for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study.

The tourism and aviation sectors are in the front line to demand the introduction of vaccine passports before any boarding. Australian airline Qantas raised the subject as early as November, while Gulf airlines Emirates and Etihad announced the upcoming test of a travel pass designed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). But the pressure to return to normal life affects many other areas. Israel announced that its vaccination certificate, the “Green Badge”, would also be used to allow access to places of worship, sports halls, bars and cultural events.

Reluctant France

In France, the government claims that the debate on vaccination certificates is premature for two reasons: the low proportion of people vaccinated and the uncertainties about the duration of the immune protection conferred by vaccines. The recent epidemic outbreaks linked to the various variants of the coronavirus have notably relaunched studies on the degree of protection and contagiousness of vaccinated people.

To date, we know that vaccines prevent the development of severe forms of Covid – 95% for those of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, 70% for AstraZeneca – but it is not yet known whether they prevent people vaccinated do not catch the virus and infect others.

“Today we cannot give more rights to some who have been vaccinated than to others who are not yet because they do not have access to them. The vaccination campaign is being rolled out gradually. This would be extremely important. unfair and paradoxical to say (to non-vaccinated people) you do not have the right to go out or resume such or such activity, “said Monday on BFMTV the Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune.

The idea of ​​rushing the reopening of places of culture for the only vaccinated people was also rejected by the Minister of Culture, Roselyne Bachelot.

“I remain opposed to the vaccination passport which seems to me an attack on our freedoms. The lover of freedoms that I am has a hard time imagining it! If we got there, it would be a step backwards ”, underlined the minister, during her speech on France 2 on February 10.

“Harmonization” of certificates within the EU

The EU, where only 3% of the population has been vaccinated, is moving cautiously on this issue. Member States agreed at the end of January on a series of principles aimed at harmonizing anti-Covid vaccination certificates. Eleven of them already issue such certificates, according to the European Commission, and at least seven more are preparing to launch them.

The device will first be used for “medical purposes”, for example if a person receives their second dose of vaccine in a country different from where they received the first. The other possible uses, such as the vaccination passport claimed by Greece to boost tourism, are not on the agenda.

“There will be no uncoordinated individual initiatives on this subject” at European level, insisted the Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune. “Some countries wanted to go faster, others like us were more reluctant. We said we were going to take a look at how it works and, in the meantime, no one is doing it.”

A wait-and-see attitude shared by the World Health Organization (WHO), which does not recommend the introduction of vaccine passports “for the moment”, citing the low number of people vaccinated worldwide.

Inequalities in access to vaccines

The existence of such a sesame would in fact worsen the injustices linked to the very strong inequalities in access to vaccines between rich and poor countries.

“What we are really talking about is giving rights and privileges that will be inaccessible to people who do not have a vaccine passport,” said Alison Thompson, professor of bioethics at the University of Toronto, during an interview with CBC Radio.

“This raises all kinds of problems on the fairness of the vaccine passport (…) We will have to closely examine the laws related to discrimination and human rights to determine how to properly use this kind of technology.”

Adapted from the English version: As more governments mull vaccine passports, critics raise discrimination fears by Nicole Trian

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