David and Bill wrote that we should do this because it would save many lives. Perhaps this is all that needs to be said. We also argued that the U.S. stood to benefit if we could substantially reduce the number of global covid cases. This would reduce U.S. coronavirus exposure and slow the rate of evolution of new coronavirus variants. The economic cost to the U.S. of a more severe pandemic could easily be greater than the cost of making and distributing the vaccine. If so, the global vaccination effort would pay for itself.
There is, however, another moral argument for global vaccination, this one tied to 9/11 and the ensuing global war on terror. Since 9/11, the U.S. has engaged in 20 years of warfare in countries across the world.
At least 801,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan… The U.S. post-9/11 wars have forcibly displaced at least 38 million people in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria. This number exceeds the total displaced by every war since 1900, except World War II.
Of course, much of that violence was committed by al-Qaeda, ISIS, or the Syrian government. Some of the civil wars that have followed 9/11 might have happened anyway. Nevertheless, Americans failed to limit their 9/11 response to the specific individuals who carried out the attacks. This was a principal cause of the ensuing death and displacements.
So now, the U.S. is known not only for baseball and democracy but also for drone strikes and torture. If we led an effort to vaccinate the world, it would be one of the largest humanitarian actions in history. We should do this to set an example and balance the effects of the global war on terror.
Europe seems poised to set the global standard for vaccine passports, now that European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has signaled that vaccinated Americans will be allowed to travel to the continent this summer.
Why it matters: Opening up travel to vaccinated Americans will bring new urgency to creating some kind of trusted means for people to prove they’ve been vaccinated, Axios’ Felix Salmon reports.
The big picture: There will probably never be a single credential that most people use to prove they’ve been vaccinated, for every purpose.
But the EU’s system will help set a standard for a proof of vaccination that’s both easily accessible and difficult to forge.
The U.S. is being closely consulted on the European passport, so any future American system will likely use similar protocols.
Details: Informal mechanisms like simply asking someone whether they’re had a shot can suffice in many situations. A system for international travel will likely be far more stringent. And there’s a wide middle, too.
Other activities that don’t need the same rigorous standards as international travel could rely on the CDC’s vaccination cards; options like a printed QR code, similar to what’s been proposed by PathCheck; or a digital QR code, like the ones created by CommonPass or the Vaccine Credential Initiative.
The bottom line:The world of vaccine passports is almost certainly going to end up as a mishmash of different credentials for different activities, rather than a single credential used by everybody for everything.
Vaccine passports could become available soon to help people resume their lives — but they face numerous scientific, social and political barriers to being accepted.
The big picture: Reliable and accessible proof of vaccine-induced protection from the novel coronavirus could speed international travel and economic reopening, but obstacles to its wide-scale adoption are so great it may never fully arrive.
Driving the news:The secure digital identity app CLEAR and CommonPass, a health app that lets users access vaccination records and COVID-19 test results, will be working together to offer a vaccine passport service, my Axios colleague Erica Pandey reports.
The news comes as a growing number of countries and companies are talking up plans to introduce similar vaccine passports that could help the protected return to normal life and travel as soon as possible.
“To restart the economy, to save certain industries, I think you need a solution like this,” Eric Piscini, a vice president at IBM who oversaw the development of the company’s new health passport app, told the New York Times.
Yes, but: There are numerous health, ethical and operational questions that need to be resolved before vaccine passports could become an effective part of daily life.
Health: Medical experts still don’t fully know how effective vaccinations — or exposure to the virus — are at preventing onward transmission of COVID-19.
While the CDC is set to soon release new guidance around social activity for fully vaccinated people, current recommendations still call for them to keep wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
Until it’s clear that vaccination effectively prevents transmission, there’s a limit to how useful any vaccine passport can be for public health — especially if emerging variants render some vaccines less protective.
“The utility of a vaccine passport is only as good as the evidence of how long the immunity lasts,” David Salisbury, an associate fellow at think tank Chatham House, told Bloomberg. “You could find yourself with a stamp in your passport that lasts longer than the antibodies in your blood.”
Ethical: The most obvious use case for vaccine passports is for international travel, which has been crippled by onerous quarantine restrictions. But such a system risks locking out billions of people who are unable or unwilling to get the vaccine.
A bigger ethical concern is the many people in developing countries who may not get access to vaccines of any sort for months or even years while rich nations hoard supplies.
And if vaccine passports are used not just for international travel but to allow people to work and engage in social life domestically, they could create cripplingly unequal barriers that might paradoxically reinforce vaccine hesitancy.
Operational: Passports for international travel are regulated by governments and have decades of history behind them, but there’s no such unified system for vaccine passports, which are being introduced by governments and businesses with different standards, making them a target for fraud.
The U.S. in particular has a decentralized medical system that can make it difficult for people to easily access their health care records, especially if they lack digital literacy.
“I can pretty much 100% guarantee that fraud is going to occur,” says Jane Lee, a trust and safety architect at the cybersecurity company Sift. “We will have a lot of bad actors where they pretend to offer a service that will provide some sort of vaccination passport, but it’s really a phishing campaign.”
Be smart: None of these obstacles are insurmountable on their own. But as we saw with the failures of digital contact tracing, just because a technological solution exists doesn’t mean it will be effective or adopted by the public.
“There’s a huge motivation to make this work socially,” says Kevin Trilli, chief product officer at Onfido, an identification verification company. “But there’s a lot of governmental issues that are going to really make the system difficult to implement.”
There’s a time pressure at work here as well, especially in the U.S, where vaccination rates have picked up. The more people who are vaccinated, the less value there will be in creating a complex system to sift the protected from the unprotected.
The bottom line: Some form of vaccine visas will likely be introduced for international travel, but it seems unlikely they’ll become a passport to resuming normal life.