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Written on 5 May 2021 by Valia Mitsakis

Vaccine passports: Light at the end of the tunnel?

Vaccine passports are being considered by governments as potential policy solutions to re-opening borders and revitalising economies while balancing the health and safety of people, but what are the policy implications around them?

More than a year after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccine rollouts have commenced in many parts of the globe; sparking the hope of a return to normalcy. Yet, the virus continues to spread causing second, and even third waves in some parts of the world. So how exactly are policy-makers implementing sustainable policies in the face of these enduring challenges? 

The answer for some, has been vaccine passports, which are seen as a potential means to re-opening borders and revitalise economies while balancing the health and safety of citizens. One such iteration is the Digital Green Certificate, recently introduced by the European Commission which promises to restore people’s right to freedom of movement and keep populations safe. 

However, questions about the efficacy of vaccine passports are numerous. The slow rollout of vaccines in some countries, vaccine hesitancy, and the uncertainty around the immunity of populations given the rapid mutations of the virus are all casting doubts.  Vaccine passports also have the potential to perpetuate existing inequalities regarding access to the vaccine and have raised some privacy concerns relating to the misuse of sensitive health information.

Key takeaways:
  • Inequality in distribution, vaccine hesitancy, as well as logistical and scarcity issues related to vaccine rollouts may allow hotspots to emerge further prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  • At the same time, COVID-19 vaccines offer imperfect protection and even vaccinated people can be carriers of the virus, since the vaccines are developed with preventing serious illness and hospitalisation in mind. 
  • The Digital Green Certificate is not strictly a “vaccine passport,” since it allows travel by integrating information other than just vaccine status. The aim is to ensure that the freedom of movement in the Schengen area can be safely exercised during the pandemic, while supporting tourism dependent economies. The Certificate is expected to be adopted in the European Parliament's (EP) Plenary Session in June 2021. The EP is also advocating for the timely revaluation of the policy depending on changing scenarios.  

In the inaugural episode of the Cambridge Policy Shop, students of the MPhil in Public Policy programme at the University of Cambridge, Anmol Singh and Hannah Marazzi, discuss the policy implications of vaccine passports with Dr Flavio Toxvaerd, Dr Nerea Irigoyen, and Mr Juan Fernando López Aguilar, MEP.

  • About the author

    Valia Mitsakis

    Valia is an MPhil in Public Policy candidate at the University of Cambridge. She is the MPP Class Representative for her cohort and Executive Director of the newly formed podcast, the Cambridge Policy Shop. Valia received her bachelor’s degree in Politics and Media Culture and Communication from New York University in 2019 and has prior experience in US politics and transatlantic affairs.