Vaccine Passports and the scars that won't heal
The polarising debates on vaccine passports have taken centre stage in the global discourse on the pandemic with some hailing them as a golden ticket to normality and others seeing them as another way in which governmental coercion is legitimised under the smokescreen of safety.
The idea is incredibly straightforward — a digital document will verify whether a person has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for Covid19. Presenting this would permit people to travel and enjoy activities that are still largely prohibited under each nation’s respective lockdown measures.
Though the Biden administration has stated that there will be no mandate for such documentation many nations are now keen to implement their use as global vaccination programs continue to fight the ongoing pandemic, despite the WHO stating that it does not support the idea. In the UK for example, 63% strongly support the introduction of a vaccine passport to allow overseas travel according to Kantar Research Group.
However, though many view them as a way of travelling freely vaccine passports are still a valid cause for concern. After all, the myth of the pandemic affecting everyone equally, that somehow, according to Boris Johnson “we are all in his together”, has been completely dispelled.
One only needs to glance at the increased share values of companies such as Zoom and Amazon and compare that to the mass unemployment of jobs in hospitality, art and leisure to see that those with power and money have gained considerably from many people’s turmoil.
Huge disparities in death and infections rates in minority groups have also widened deeply over the past year. This has most notably been seen in the United States where it has been reported that Black Americans have received the vaccine at half the rate of white Americans according to Yara M.Asi details in The Conversation.
Additionally, there is a genuine cause for concern about the implementation of vaccine passports as means of normalising coercive and overly intrusive government powers. Ultimately where one stands on the issue depends entirely on their subjective understanding of liberty and whether they believe their government’s intentions are malevolent or benevolent.
Maria Alvarez in The Guardian recalls how John Stuart Mill once argued that in a “civilised community”, coercive governmental interference was justified if it was explicitly used to prevent harm to others and to oneself. Though the data on the success of lockdowns is far from conclusive such a measure would fit under this definition. However, one must draw the line somewhere as safety is all too often used as a tool to encourage people to relinquish their freedoms — the Patriot Act is only 20 years old.
The debates on vaccine passports also must not be conducted in a historical vacuum. After all, as Jordan E.Taylor details in Time Magazine, the implementation of a vaccine passport would not be American history’s first as he recounts Americans’ long campaign against smallpox.
The smallpox vaccine was introduced in the 18th century and was said to leave visible scarring after being administered. Even then, the anti-vaxxers of the day used this to state that such markings were the clearest signs of tyrannical measures forced upon people. Border officials at the end of the 19th century often required passengers to provide evidence that they had been vaccinated from smallpox upon entry to the United States.
Taylor points out the fundamental fact that Covid 19 vaccinations make it almost impossible to determine who is immune and who remains at risk as no such scarring is present and the use of vaccine passports could provide a scar-free solution to ensuring public safety.