Opinion | Vaccine Passports Won’t Get Us Out of the Pandemic

Until coronavirus vaccines are distributed equitably and nations agree to immunization standards, vaccination passes will not end the spread of Covid-19.

By Saskia Popescu and Alexandra Phelan

Dr. Popescu is an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University who has advised the World Health Organization on infection prevention. Dr. Phelan, a global health lawyer at Georgetown University, has advised the W.H.O. on legal issues related to infectious disease.

More than 448 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered worldwide, and in some countries immunization campaigns are allowing people to resume quasi-normal life. In Israel, where 50 percent of the population has been immunized, residents can show a “green pass” — proof that they have been vaccinated — to enter restaurants, theaters and gyms. Both the European Union and China recently announced their own versions of vaccination passes. While vaccination certificates may allow holders to enter businesses within a country, governments are also hoping to use them to regulate international travel and borders.

But in much of the world, coronavirus vaccines remain in short supply and, in some cases, wholly unavailable. As governments, largely in rich countries, seek to use vaccine passports to relax restrictions, they risk relying on a fragmented system that could have the adverse effect of extending the pandemic.

In addition to the vaccine passes being prepped in Europe and China, the World Economic Forum is working with a group called the Commons Project on a system for documenting coronavirus vaccinations. IBM is developing a Digital Health Pass, and the International Air Transport Association, a trade association for the airline industry, is developing a smartphone app that will provide passengers with information about testing and vaccination requirements.

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