You may remember that once upon a time, we used to have to bring with us a little red book whenever we wished to take an overseas vacation.
And yes, the term “overseas vacation” may seem rather foreign now. That little red book has probably either been buried beneath the depths of our wardrobe (under a redundant pile of winter jackets), expired or perhaps even shredded to pieces by eager pets.
However with the development of COVID-19 vaccines, we’re hearing the phrase “vaccine passport” being thrown around a lot these days.
But did you know that even right here in Singapore, vaccine passports aren’t actually all that novel?
What’s more, the vaccine passport isn’t only used for the purpose of overseas travel, but also for going just about anywhere—like to cinemas and pubs.
Here’s everything that you need to know about vaccine passports, simplified just for you.
If you prefer to watch this topic instead, here’s a video we’ve done:
Not Just for International Travel
We usually associate passports with overseas travel, but, as mentioned earlier, vaccine passports may not only be for international travel.
Countries all over the globe are considering using vaccine passports for domestic purposes, for instance to grant entry into areas with high risk of COVID-19 transmission, such as theatres or pubs.
Though this is less challenging to implement as it is on a domestic rather than international scale, the ethics and fairness of vaccine passports have to be considered.
Ethics and Fairness of Vaccine Passports
Most of us are medically eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, so if we refuse to take it and are subsequently refused entry into pubs and KTVs, then we’ve only got ourselves to blame.
After all, the vaccine is free of charge for all Singaporeans and long-term residents.
However, what about those who are unable to receive the vaccine due to medical conditions? This could be due to certain allergies which would make one medically unfit to be vaccinated.
You can refer to this link to find out if you are medically eligible for the vaccine.
With the implementation of a vaccine passport, would these people then be excluded from certain activities and barred from visiting certain locations because of their lack of vaccine certification?
Oh, and here’s another thing: the vaccines that have been approved in Singapore thus far are only for people above the age of 16.
Does this mean… we leave the kids at home then? (Whether this is for better or for worse, I leave it up to you to decide.)
WHO’s Stance on the Issue
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), vaccine passports for international travel should not be introduced yet. Their concern revolves not only around ethics or fairness, but around the lack of data collected to make an informed decision as well.
While a vaccinated individual is at a much lower risk of falling sick from COVID-19, there has not been any data to show that they cannot transmit the virus to someone else.
Additionally, aside from people who may be medically unfit to take the vaccine, there are also concerns over the availability of the vaccine in lower-income countries.
Rich nations have the capacity to purchase large quantities of the vaccine for their citizens while poorer countries have to wait to be vaccinated years later.
This then begs the question: does this mean that only the wealthy and affluent will be able to travel freely around the world and gain access to certain locations, hence further exacerbating the rich-poor divide?
Challenges of Overseas Travel
Another key challenge in the implementation of the travel vaccine passport is the issue of authenticity.
Let’s use an analogy to explain. In Singapore, we use Grab and Gojek, but over in the US, they use Uber and Lyft.
Similarly, different countries will roll out different ways of vaccine verification for their own vaccine passports, hence authenticity is undermined as there is no common way of verification that is recognised universally by all countries.
Additionally, with advancements in Photoshop and other editing software, people might even be able to create fake vaccination certs for themselves.
However, there might be a solution for that.
The Use of Blockchain Technology to Counter Fake Vaccine Certs
Cryptocurrency is just one of the technologies that utilise blockchain.
Allow me to use an analogy to dumb down the concept of blockchain a little, because it can get rather confusing.
Let’s say A wants to transfer $10 to B. In order to do that, A has to inform the bank, which will then update both accounts after checking that A does indeed have $10 to transfer.
So it’s evident that the transaction has to go through a bank, the middleman, that will then update their records accordingly.
If it’s a cheque transaction between two different banks, it gets even more complicated as two banks are involved in the process.
However, blockchain technology essentially removes this middleman while still allowing for the transaction to take place.
How, you may ask?
One simply undertakes a transaction with their digital wallet, and everyone else’s digital wallet will be updated at the same time without the need for the involvement of a middleman.
This method is secure because you can simply update records by adding blocks to the blockchain which can’t be altered.
Let’s apply this same concept of blockchain technology to a vaccine passport.
The use of this technology would make the vaccine passport safe and secure, and most crucially, it would eradicate the possibility of fake certs.
Some nations have already begun harnessing this technology for their own vaccine passports or COVID-19 test results.
Novel Twist on a Not-So-Novel Concept
While the concept of a vaccine passport sounds rather new to most of us, you may be surprised to know that the vaccine passport is actually older than many of us.
If you travel to Singapore from Kenya, which has a high risk of yellow fever transmission, you would need to have a yellow-fever vaccination certificate. Without it, you would have to be quarantined for up to six days.
This is something that’s actually required in many countries.
Several regions that depend on tourism for income have also declared that they will be opening up their borders for vaccinated tourists, though their methods of vaccine verification remain to be seen.
So, which side of the fence are you on? #TeamVaccinePassports or #TeamFairness?
Featured Image: ronstik / Shutterstock.com