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COVID-19, Global Cooperation and Reigniting the Economy: Do we Need Vaccine Certificates?

Series | COVID-19 & response strategy #33


[This document is a part of a series of discussion notes addressing fundamental questions about the COVID-19 crisis and response strategies. These documents are based on the best scientific information available and may be updated as new information comes to light.]

Written by Denise Naniche, Gonzalo Fanjul, Jeffrey Lazarus, José Muñoz, Antoni Plasència, Oriana Ramírez and Rafael Vilasanjuan (ISGlobal), the document analyzes how to ensure that internationally regulated vaccine certificates can bring benefits to all.

A year into the pandemic, there is an urgency to kick start national economies and bring people back to work. We are also embarked on the largest vaccination campaign in human history. In the midst of this worldwide mass immunization, several countries have unilaterally initiated vaccine certificate which could allow vaccinated individuals extended freedom to safely engage in travel and other activities.

China and Israel have theirs. Denmark is considering creating one for business travel and Greece is rolling out its own in order to revive tourism. In addition, the European Commission has announced that a “digital green passport” will be implemented by June. Several private sector initiatives are also in the pipeline such as the “digital health pass” by IBM or the “travel pass” by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). As the world scrambles to develop their vaccine certificates, several important issues remain unresolved:

  1. There are some scientific hurdles to the global standardization of a vaccine certificate. For example, we do not have a firm grasp on the duration of immunity for each of the vaccines nor on their capacity to stop transmission. However, most of the challenges to harmonization of a vaccine certificate are linked to geopolitics and to the economic interests of high-income countries.
  2. Vaccine certificates could widen existing inequalities and discrimination. They are a double-edged sword. They allow people in different economic sectors, including tourism, to go back to work and rebuild their livelihoods, but they could deepen inequalities by giving privileges to vaccinated individuals while withholding them from the non-vaccinated.
  3. How will data, identity and privacy be handled? A digital vaccine certificate poses challenges with regards to identity proofing and privacy, avoiding forgery and updating vaccine information.