Vaccination Passports – A Necessary Safeguard Or An Infringement On Civil Liberty?

Vaccination Passports – A Necessary Safeguard Or An Infringement On Civil Liberty?

As public health officials ramp up their COVID -19 vaccination programmes across the world and people yearn for a return to normalcy in the general economic, political and social conditions in the nations, a once casual flirtation of governments and conveyance operators with the notion of vaccination passports is gradually becoming a manifest reality; to the joy of some and the dismay of others.

The World health organization alluded to vaccination passport as “proof of Covid-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry”. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says a 'vaccination passport' will bring peace of mind to potential tourists, and could quickly reboot mass travel across the globe. 

One of the definitions of an experiment is that it is “a scientific procedure undertaken to make a discovery”. The COVID-19 vaccination programme can be seen as an experimentation in light of the many critical unknowns surrounding this technology – while it is generally accepted that the vaccine offers some protection to the infected from clinical illnesses, scientists are yet to discover the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine on transmissibility reduction and on the new mutant strains of the virus.

The use of Messenger RNA (mRNA) in vaccines is a brand new technology. The COVID-19 vaccines are the first vaccines ever-employing this technology- to have been approved for use in humans. Moreover, due of the pandemic, the production and distribution of this vaccine were rushed and catapulted by emergency authorization, even before all the data from phase III of the trials were available- an initiative potentially injurious and fatal, blurred by massive financial investments under the guise of “saving lives”.

No lessons learnt from the American “swine flu fiasco” vaccination programme in 1976, which came to a screeching halt after 450 recipients reportedly developed a rare neurological condition?

Mandatory vaccination policies usually raise ethical issues of individual autonomy and civil liberty. While the Covid- 19 vaccine is purportedly optional, the vaccination passport can be seen as a backdoor to a milder form of mandatory vaccination. Constraints by such external obligation or pressure essentially strips one of one’s power to self-determine.  

No entity - a government, an organization or a conveyance operator- should procure an individual’s participation in a scientific experiment through coercive tactics; whether directly or indirectly.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns against vaccination passports and unwittingly admits to the experimental nature of the COVID 19 vaccine in the statement below: 

“…… is the WHO’s position that national authorities and conveyance operators should not introduce requirements for proof of Covid 19 vaccination for international travel ………… given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission”

 An airline may prima facie be supportive of vaccination passports due to, inter alia, safety concerns for its staff. However, the individual who is vaccinated may be a silent super-spreader of the virus since science supports the position that such an individual can still become infected, if exposed, and, while experiencing no symptoms, potentially infect many others as vaccination could subconsciously result in a relaxation of COVID- 19 protocols.

In recent times the constitutionality of stay at home orders – similar in many respects to mandatory vaccination- has been successfully challenged. In both The Wisconsin and Pennsylvania cases, stay at home orders were declared unconstitutional.

In May 2020, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that:

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court has struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ order shutting down daily life to limit the spread of coronavirus — marking the first time a statewide order of its kind has been knocked down by a court of last resort.”

It is posited that such revolutionary thinking may engender a weakened precedent produced by the decision of Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905), in which the US Supreme Court upheld a state’s mandatory compulsory smallpox vaccination law over the challenge of a pastor who alleged that it violated his religious liberty rights. 

Vaccination passports can also contribute to vaccine nationalism where the world richest nations could secure billions of doses of vaccines, while the pandemic rages on in the poorer countries as they struggle to access supplies, exacerbating the plight of the latter, potentially triggering the mutation of new variants, and consequentially handicapping, not only the global health, but also the global economic recovery.   

An analysis of some Oxford experts compiled from data provided by the Office for Nation Statistics (ONS) shows that the average age of people dying in England and Wales from Covid-19 is 82.4. Population data in the UK revealed that approximately 2.5% of the population aged 80 and over.

In conclusion, with all that is known and not known about COVID-19 vaccines, vaccination passports-a milder form of mandatory vaccination- will be an extremely unreasonable, outrageously unconstitutional and a dictatorial imposition on an otherwise healthy and significant portion of the population, when the minority that is truly affected by the coronavirus has been identified. And even for that minority, the authorities can certainly apply less intrusive means to serve public health purposes that will not infringe on individual freedoms and civil liberties.

Note about the Author

Rawl Wilson is a Guyanese national who currently resides in Montserrat. He is a teacher at Montserrat Secondary School. His wide-ranging and diverse interests are reflected in his training in Civil Engineering, Theology and Law.