'Vaccine Passport': An Extension of the "Vaccine War"
With the advancement of the vaccination against the COVID-19 pandemic in various countries, those that took the lead in vaccination have now begun to consider loosening the restrictions imposed to curtail the pandemic so as to restore the economy. Among them, the proposal to launch a "vaccine passport" has become an issue that is heavily discussed in developed countries. The so-called "vaccine passport" is a kind of vaccination certificate, and the holder of this certificate does not need to be tested for the virus or undergone mandatory isolation when traveling between countries that accept the "vaccine passport". This means that people who have been vaccinated can enjoy more freedom in employment, work and traveling. This convenience can also be used in order to promote more people to get vaccinated.
On January 19 2021, the European Commission issued a document proposing EU member states to speed up vaccinations against the novel coronavirus and strive to completely vaccinate 70% of all adults by this summer. It is worth noting that the document also discusses the issuance of "vaccine passport" to vaccinators in order to promote the recovery of tourism and the economy.
As it stands, the "vaccine passport" is not mere talk; it has become a reality in a few countries and Iceland has issued the first batch of "vaccine passports" in January this year. Iceland's Ministry of Health stated on January 26 that the purpose of this measure was to promote the exchange of people between countries so that individuals with proof of vaccination during border control can be exempted from border restrictions in accordance with relevant national rules. Denmark will be launching an electronic vaccine passport at the end of February to serve as certificate of COVID-19 vaccination when traveling internationally. The Danish Minister of Taxation Morten Bødskov said that the implementation of the vaccine passport is vital to restarting the normal operation of societies and enterprises. It is expected that the official version of the digital vaccine passport developed in Denmark will be released in 2 to 3 months. On February 4, Sweden also announced its plan to launch digital vaccine certificates by June this year. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said that countries must establish an international standard for "vaccine passport", and he hopes to cooperate with the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as the European Union on the matter.
However, WHO has explicitly opposed the launch of a "vaccine passport". On January 15, Mike Ryan, head of the WHO Emergencies Program, said that at the current stage, it is still uncertain if the vaccinated people will transmit the virus to others, although this does not mean that the "vaccine passport" will not be feasible in the future. He added that WHO considers various factors such as the situations in each country, level of income, as well as ethical issues, he recommends that countries not to require vaccine proof for international travel.
ANBOUND's research team has been tracking the development the COVID-19 pandemic since January 2020. Mr. Chan Kung, ANBOUND's founder, also put forward the concept of a "vaccine war" at a very early stage. Insufficient vaccine production capacity in various countries at that time coupled with the overwhelming demand for vaccines will eventually lead to a "vaccine war", that is causing strong competition and anger over the use of vaccines. This will even divide the world into two, i.e., the world with immunity and the world without it. Now, the "vaccine war" has actually taken place and the situation is deteriorating. Countries all over the world are eager to compete for as many effective vaccines as possible within a limited time to meet their own needs.
The current "vaccine war" is no longer merely limited to the purchase of vaccines. The hotly discussed "vaccine passport" issue in many countries is also an extension of the "vaccine war" and may trigger a series of major disputes and geopolitical effects.
First of all, the "vaccine passport" depends on the scale and proportion of vaccination in each country. There is no doubt that developed countries will have an overwhelming advantage in this matter. They have the choice to either develop and produce vaccines themselves, or they can simply buy large amounts of vaccines, hence they will be the first to have larger populations to hold "vaccine passports". As expressed by the WHO, the current vaccination is uneven. There are 10 countries that have received more than three-quarters of the COVID-19 vaccines, but nearly 130 countries who have not received any at all. The ratio of this is 10:130, so there are only 10 countries that are immune; these countries are not afraid of and will not be affected by the virus.
Second, the "vaccine passport" will make the movement of people in the world one-way in a certain sense, i.e., from developed countries to developing countries, but not vice versa. Because developed countries will take the lead in mass vaccination to reach the so-called "herd immunity", they will push for a "vaccine passport" to revive the economy. However, developing countries are far from achieving this. The absence of vaccination means that they can only stay in their own country or even just in the immediate local area. They would be self-enclosed and unable to enter a country with a vaccinated populace.
Third, the implementation of the "vaccine passport will encounter a very major issue, i.e., how would the standard for the "vaccine passport" be determined? What kind of vaccine will be included in the "vaccine passport"? So far, 7 vaccines have been marketed globally, but the effectiveness of each vaccines differs, and the vaccines approved for marketing in various countries are also different. When the "vaccine passport" is implemented in the future, whether all countries will accept the same passport remains a big question. In addition, which party will formulate the "vaccine passport" standard? Is it the World Health Organization or the health ministry of each country? If countries can set standards, will some countries (such as the United States) not recognize other countries' "vaccine passports"?
Fourth, how versatile is the "vaccine passport"? The types of vaccines used by each country may differ from another, and in reality, the "vaccine war" has become politicized. With this in mind, can the "vaccine passports" issued by the United States, Europe, and China be universal? Will it be mixed with political factors? Judging from the current situation, we believe that it will most definitely be politicized. Developed countries may not necessarily recognize the "vaccine passports" of developing countries, and developing countries may also refuse to recognize the "vaccine passports" of some developed countries due to fear of virus transmission.
Fifth, travelling with a "vaccine passport" faces basic scientific problems: the passport can only prove that the holder is vaccinated, and the chance of getting infected is reduced, but it does not mean that the holder of the "vaccine passport" will not transmit the virus to others. For people and countries that have not been vaccinated, there is still the possibility of spreading the virus, and this fear will also cause some cautious countries to reject "vaccine passport."
Finally, there is the problem of "virus mutation". Although several vaccines that have been put into use have been found to be effective against certain mutations, there is a theoretical possibility that they will not be effective against some newer mutations. Once the virus mutation causes the existing vaccines to become invalid or reduce their effectiveness, the purpose of the "vaccine passport" is immediately lost.
From the above analysis, there are still many problems and risks concerning the "vaccine passport", and all these indicate that the conditions for such a certification are not yet met. However, as an independent public policy analysis agency, researchers at ANBOUND would like suggest a risky possibility; despite many problems, for the economies of countries impacted by the pandemic, the possibility of "vaccine passport" is very real. For some large-scale vaccinated countries, which are mainly developed countries, they are unlikely to give up the possibility of recovering the economy as soon as possible because of the advantages of the vaccination. As for other countries in the world that lag far behind in vaccination, their fate would be different. The differentiation of these "two worlds" will appear in various periods and forms amidst of the "vaccine war".
Final analysis conclusion:
The "vaccine war" has become the new norm in the current world. The difference between the "two worlds" due to different vaccinations will extend to the launch of the "vaccine passports" in the future. The acceleration of vaccination is not only related to the safety of the people, but also closely ties to the starting position and competitive position that countries can occupy in the post-pandemic economic recovery stage.
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