Ethical Questions Surround COVID Vaccine Passports
April 2, 2021 – As discussions about ‘vaccine passports’ accelerate and more people around the world complete their COVID-19 vaccines, ethical dilemmas arise.
Mark A. Hall, JD, from Wake Forest University Law and Medical Schools in Winston-Salem, NC, and David M. Studdert, ScD, LLB, University Law and Medical Schools Stanford, Calif., Present some of the key ethical considerations in a perspective published online Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Israel is already issuing what it calls “green passes”. Australia, Denmark and Sweden have pledged to implement passports, and the United States, the British government and the European Union are considering their own versions, the authors note.
Although the uses of passports differ, they will all serve as proof that the wearer has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with the goal of safely reopening economies.
Hall and Studdert point out that vaccine stocks are currently limited, so granting privileges to those who have been fortunate enough to obtain them “is morally questionable.”
Even when vaccines are more widely available, they note, rates among minorities and low-income people will likely remain low, which could lead to discrimination.
Additionally, a passport system would essentially penalize people with religious or philosophical objections to getting vaccinated.
It would also penalize people who just don’t want to be vaccinated, but the authors say: “[R]equating people who refuse vaccination with bearing certain consequences of their refusal seems fair, especially if, collectively, such hesitation puts collective immunity out of reach. “
The range of competing arguments, say the authors, suggest “that it would be hasty – and extremely unlikely in the United States – to make government policy of vaccine passports.”
But the arguments do not support a ban on all use of vaccine certification, as some have proposed, they say.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this week he would issue an executive order banning local governments and businesses from requiring passports.
One area that has gained clarity is the protection provided by vaccines, an argument for having accreditation. The authors point out that the data shows that the risk, especially in terms of serious illness and death, is significantly reduced with vaccinations.
Our sincere thanks to