Vaccine passport — more problems than solutions?

The implementation could be a source of delay in economic recovery and social discrimination, says expert

by RAHIMI YUNUS / pic by AFP

ECONOMISTS have raised concerns that the idea of a vaccine passport could lead to issues on ethics, security and geopolitics, which would pose challenges to the hoped-for tourism recovery.

Centre for Market Education CEO Dr Carmelo Ferlito said vaccine passport has data security, privacy and discrimination issues, at least for now, since all the vaccines are still under a formal trial process despite being approved for emergency reasons.

“Covid-19 tests would probably remain the gold standard to allow people to travel. It is faster, safer and non-discriminatory,” Ferlito told The Malaysian Reserve.

On the vaccine passport, he said countries looking simply at bilateral travel agreements could make the return to normalcy an excessively long process.

Besides that, he raised questions on vaccine geopolitics, particularly among the producing countries.

“We have the US, China, Russia playing a big chess game here. There may be an attempt to create some sort of ‘influence areas’ similar to what was done after World War 2 at Yalta.

“This could bring to another cold war with tensions that go beyond the imagination,” he said.

Additionally, Ferlito said data privacy issue, although less sensitive in the East compared to the West, is still a problem.

“The implementation of a vaccine passport, thus, could be a source of delay in economic recovery, social discrimination, privacy violation and geopolitical escalation.

“For example, what happens if the US accepts only people with the Pfizer Inc vaccine, while China only the ones with Sinovac Biotech Ltd? Should we be injected with all the available vaccines to visit these countries? We need to avoid turning people from becoming the battlefield of a different war,” he said.

Regarding herd immunity, Ferlito said South-East Asia could probably enjoy a sort of genetic advantage as seen in the significantly lower number of infections and deaths compared to Europe, Latin America and North America.

He said it is an interpretative key where geographical factors may provide some explanations and should be explored.

Meanwhile, Moody’s Analytics assistant director and economist Xiao Chun Xu said an easily accessible digital transcript of the population’s Covid-19 health records raises concerns about data security and confidentiality, in addition to uncertainty regarding verification and authentication.

“Even though a vaccine passport could encourage the take-up of vaccines, there are ethical concerns that it could lead to citizens being barred from social activities such as eating in restaurants or accessing gyms and swimming pools.

“Social inequality and limited access to vaccines, especially in developing Asia, could dissuade the wide use of vaccine passports,” Xiao said in a report.

The economist said allowing only the vaccinated to travel or participate in social activities would accentuate the inequalities in the region.

He also said early discussions regarding vaccine passport are causing geopolitical tensions along with many other aspects of the pandemic.

For instance, he said the European Union (EU) proposed that only those inoculated with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency can receive a digital green pass.

This means that Chinese vaccines exported to EU member states such as Hungary and the Czech Republic will not qualify.

Xiao noted that tourist-dependent economies, such as Thailand and the Philippines, will welcome only a fraction of the 40 million tourists that customarily visit per year given the prolonged second wave of Covid-19 infections locally and the slow pace of vaccinations globally.

Travel and tourism normally make up about 20% to 25% of GDP and employment, according to data from the World Travel and Tourism Council.

He said vaccination in Asia has been relatively slow, thus herd immunity will be achieved later compared to the US and Europe.

He further said China has run into many supply issues that have caused it to fall behind in vaccine distribution compared to its economic rivals.

“The virus will persist in some form for many years to come, and world governments must find a long-term solution for travel and cooperation.

“This will likely involve coordination and trust, and careful diplomacy will be needed to avoid politicising the issue and driving world governments away from mutual interests,” Xiao said.

Read our previous report here

Vaccine passport complications could derail tourism rebound in Asia


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