The Council of Europe has warned that the roll out of vaccine passports should proceed with the ‘utmost caution’ and risks discrimination whilst acknowledging its ‘usefulness cannot be question in the context of the current health crisis’ (here). In the UK, a range of pilot events are scheduled to take place to test the scheme and the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi has stated that it would be ‘remiss and irresponsible’ not to consider their use.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission accepted that the passports could be used as way to lift restrictions and open the economy but stressed the importance of ‘minimis[ing] the risk of any discrimination’ and ‘striking a balance between individual liberty and the rights of others’ (here). More than 70 MPs have signed a pledge against the introduction of vaccine passports in England, claiming they would be ‘divisive and discriminatory’.
The Council of Europe highlight the importance of administering the vaccines in line with the Oviedo Convention so ‘that restrictions on individual freedoms can gradually be reviewed as broader immunity is achieved among populations’ and one such way, it argues, is the use of vaccine passports.
The document warns that vaccine passports ‘could prevent the enjoyment of certain fundamental rights by individuals’ and pose risks of discrimination. This view is supported by the civil liberties group Liberty, which fears a ‘two-tier system’ in which ‘some people can access freedoms and support while others are shut out’.
The Council also stated the risks of increased criminal activities due to the introduction of vaccine passports. As a certificate of vaccination would offer ‘greater freedoms’, it could ‘open the door to the development of a parallel private market for vaccines’ and an increase in the ‘counterfeiting of vaccines or the issuing of false certificates’. Similarly, because the passes would contain sensitive health data it needs to ‘be subject to a particularly high level of protection’.