UK scientists: Vaccine passport feasible but must meet “demanding criteria”

UK scientists: Vaccine passport feasible but must meet “demanding criteria”
(PHOTO: RONSTIK VIA SHUTTERSTOCK)

Minnis says proof of vaccination will be a “critical measure” to boost tourism

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — With the global push towards coronavirus vaccination intensifying, scientists in the United Kingdom have put forth the view that vaccine passports are feasible even though all the pieces are currently not in place to allow one to be effectively delivered.

The Science in Emergencies Tasking: COVID-19 group at the Royal Society — a fellowship of some of the world’s most eminent scientists and the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence — issued a report last week, outlining 12 criteria that should be satisfied to deliver an effective vaccine passport.

The report highlights key challenges in the initiative, including the need for more information on the efficacy of vaccines in preventing infection and transmission by the currently circulating viruses and the duration of protective immunity to establish how long a passport might be valid.

It also discusses other issues surrounding technical opportunities and challenges of having systems that can work seamlessly with each other and the need to meet legal and ethical standards.

“An effective vaccine passport system that would allow the return to pre-COVID-19 activities, including travel, without compromising personal or public health, must meet a set of demanding criteria — but it is feasible,” said Professor Christopher Dye, professor of epidemiology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford and one of the lead authors on the report.

“First, there is the science of immunity, then the challenges of something working across the world that is durable, reliable and secure. There are legal and ethical issues and if you can crack all that, you have to have the trust of the people.

“Huge progress has been made in many of these areas, but we are not there yet.  At the most basic level, we are still gathering data on exactly how effective each vaccine is in preventing infection and transmission and on how long the immunity will last.”

The report notes that a vaccine passport should: meet benchmarks for COVID-19 immunity; accommodate differences between vaccines in their efficacy, and changes in vaccine efficacy against emerging variants; be internationally standardized; have verifiable credentials; have defined uses; be based on a platform of interoperable technologies; be secure for personal data; be portable; be affordable to individuals and governments; meet legal standards; meet ethical standards; and have conditions of use that are understood and accepted by the passport holders.

Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme Dr Nikkiah Forbes. (FILE PHOTO)

In a recent interview with Eyewitness News, National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme Dr Nikkiah Forbes said the move towards vaccine passports may be the “reality” for countries, industries and even companies.

“There’s still gonna be a long way to go with the world after COVID-19 and there are still things that we are working out,” she said.

Forbes noted that scientists will still have to review whether vaccines will require boosting; whether they will work for new strains that might emerge, or need to be tweaked for possible new strains; and how they translate into asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.

“There will still be grey areas that hopefully we will get clear in the scientific community,” she said.

In January, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO)/World Health Organization (WHO) said it would not support the implementation of COVID-19 vaccination passports.

Deputy Director of the PAHO Health Emergencies Department Dr Sylvain Aldighieri explained that with limited access to and supply of vaccines globally, the move would widen inequalities.

Meanwhile, the Global Tourism Crisis Committee has underscored the need for vaccine passports to jumpstart international tourism amidst the ongoing global pandemic.

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis. (BIS PHOTO/ULRIC WOODSIDE)

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis yesterday urged all eligible Bahamians to reject viral social media misinformation and accept the COVID-19 vaccine as the country moves closer to the launch of its national distribution campaign.

He highlighted that vaccines are critical to ending the pandemic and noted while the government will not make them mandatory, it could become a travel requirement for other countries.

We are hearing that cruise lines may require their passengers to show that they have been vaccinated,” Minnis added.

“Proof of vaccination may be one of the critical measures in helping the tourism industry to bounce back around the world.

“As a leading tourism destination, we must play our part and set an example for the world.”

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