Vaccination is essential; Vaccine passports are not!

Vaccine passports are here; but what are they? Are they as useful as government authorities are claiming them to be or are they another form of discrimination being digitalised? In this post, we will take a look at these questions and more to understand whether use of vaccine passports for international travel should be allowed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://internetfreedom.in/vaccination-is-essential-vaccine-passports-are-not/

I have the following observations on this controversial publication by IFF:

  1. The last line of section “Vaccine Passports: What are they?” of your article reads as:

“However, it is important to keep in mind that there are still critical unknowns when it comes to whether vaccination is a guarantor of prevention of transmission of the infection.”

The source cited for this assertion is a BBC op-ed article and another op-ed article from the British digital rights organisation, Privacy International (PI). The BBC article is an op-ed that discusses the ability of existing vaccines to halt transmissions. It concludes with the scientific opinion that though vaccine ambitions would be different for different countries, vaccination would play a crucial role in reducing transmissions. It goes on to say that some scientists argue that the emphasis on preventing transmission is a red herring because once enough people have been vaccinated, it doesn’t matter if they are still able to spread the virus because everyone will have immunity. Therefore, according to this source, the focus is not on achieving guarantee of prevention of transmission but to ensure that as many people as can safely get vaccinated are vaccinated.
The PI article is another op-ed piece that analyses the demands set by WHO for vaccination certificates in context of data rights and human rights. It is not a scientific report or a scientific data analysis document which shows "whether vaccination is a guarantor of prevention of transmission of the infection." To make a factual assertion such as the one made in the above IFF article, a source to prove such assertion must be provided. Ample precedent points to vaccines driving successful containment of infectious diseases even when they do not provide perfectly sterilizing immunity. “Measles, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, hepatitis B—these are all epidemic-prone diseases. They show that we don’t need 100 percent effectiveness at reducing transmission, or 100 percent coverage or 100 percent effectiveness against disease to triumph over infectious diseases." (https:/www.scientificamerican.com/article/vaccines-need-not-completely-stop-covid-transmission-to-curb-the-pandemic1/) All credible peer reviewed published scientific data at the moment points that vaccination would eventually prevent transmission of coronavirus by reducing the pool of people who get infected and reducing virus levels in the nose of people with breakthrough infections.
Therefore, an unproven factual assertion has been made in the article which at best can be said to be an assumption. Anti-vaxxers are known to make similar assertions by putting more weightage on the inability of vaccines to completely prevent community transmission rather than focusing on achieving herd immunity. Not to forget that it is quite irresponsible to make such a statement in an environment where anti-vaxxers are gaining momentum.

  1. Subsection “A. Ethical” of section “Concerns surrounding vaccine passports for international travel” makes extremely distasteful anti-vaccination comments such as “a vaccine passport mandate could soon jeopardise the travel plans of those who wish to travel abroad but do not have access to vaccines (or even those who can’t or don’t want to get one).” Here emphasis be placed on the remark “who don’t want to get one”. This looks like author(s) believes in securing travel rights for people who refuse to get vaccinated. Such a stance would not only negatively encourage anti-vaxxers (refer to the comments on the IFF instagram page post of this article) but even put the goal of achieving herd immunity at risk. Of course, a proper option for exemption for health reasons is essential, but it is irresponsible for people who have no legitimate reason to refuse vaccination.

  2. Subsection “B. Legal” of section “Concerns surrounding vaccine passports for international travel” has cited Maneka Gandhi v. UoI to assert “Right to travel abroad is an inseverable part of the fundamental right to dignity and personal liberty which can only be curtailed by procedure established by law”. Very respectfully, I would like to point out to the author(s) here that the concerned judgment pronounced a different right than the one this article is suggesting to achieve. The petitioner in the said case was asked to surrender her passport. In the case of vaccine passports, valid passport holders do not have to surrender their passports, instead the purpose of vaccine passports is to facilitate cross border movement smoothly for the travellers during the time of covid-19 pandemic. An unvaccinated individual would be allowed to travel just as they are now, given that their purpose of travel is in line with the laws of the destination country. The rules of quarantine would apply on such persons. It is unlikely that such unvaccinated persons would be cleared for inbound tourism as large group gatherings are extremely unsafe for unvaccinated persons than they are for vaccinated persons (https:/www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7037e1.htm).
    To give an illustration, in June, 180 attendees met for a five-day overnight church camp and a two-day men’s conference in Illinois, United States neither of which required vaccination, testing or masks. By August, 180 Covid-19 cases were connected to the gatherings, including five hospitalizations, according to the investigation from the CDC and the Illinois Department of Public Health, United States. The COVID-19 hospitalization rate is 16 times higher in unvaccinated people than in those who’ve been vaccinated. Therefore, not only travel is extremely unsafe for the unvaccinated, such infections would lead to increased transmission and increased opportunities for the virus to evolve.

  3. Subection “C. Privacy and surveillance” of section “Concerns surrounding vaccine passports for international travel” details out incredibly sound arguments against digitisation of vaccine passports. However, this argument cannot be viewed in isolation and should be evaluated along with the benefits of vaccine passports.

My primary criticism of this writing piece is that it presents vaccine passports as an unwanted evil requirement by the governments when instead they are a need of the hour (Vaccine passports: why they are good for society). Much to my disappointment, the author(s) failed to address the specific objective behind introduction of these passports- to resume international travel as millions of tourism dependent earners have gone out of business and are struggling to survive in crushing financial troubles due to an international travel ban in place since 1.5 years to prevent transmission of coronavirus. Reports from the Centre show that 21.5 million jobs have been lost alone in the tourism sector between April and December 2020. According to the Bureau of Immigration, the number of foreign tourist arrivals in India stood at 10.93 million in 2019, declining to 2.74 million in 2020 and about 0.42 million by June 2021.The tourism sector was the first to suffer and will be affected till the end. Entire world population cannot be vaccinated until before 2025. It is simply too much to ask from the tourism and travel industry to wait until then for lifting of travel bans especially when rest other all economic activities have been restored for obvious financial reasons.
Other tools like vaccine certificates advised by WHO cannot be useful for this purpose as the legitimacy of such certificates is doubtful given that they are easy to fake. As happened in the case of covid test reports, it is difficult to detect forgery of such documents. Preparation of document by the passport authorities on the other hand is a more sophisticated process as it involves series of verification measures.
It is not my suggestion that vaccine passports be prepared at the expense of privacy rights. It would in fact have been helpful had the author(s) objectively analysed the requirements of vaccine passports, stated the possibility of privacy rights violations and provided recommendations to deal with the same without compromising the rights of the vaccinated persons but it seems like they approached the subject with a myopic lens. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/08/03/vaccine-passports-are-more-important-than-ever/).
To conclude, vaccination is essential and so are vaccine passports if we wish to restore safe international order.
(I went to the trouble of citing all points only to realise later that I cannot share more than 2 links! sigh :frowning: . I still left some though. Just add another / after https:/ to access )

Hi! Thank you for taking the time to respond. It does help us improve our work and thinking! So thank you so much for hopping over from IG to the Forum to engage with us.

Before I specifically respond, some things I would like to place in addition to specific responses:

(1) We agree on the need for vaccination. For context, I am linking some of our past work that signals a clear support for vaccination. It is primarily centred around technology based exclusion where we have co-authored papers, written op-eds, run a twitter storm around Co-Win, and also prepared a note used by the High Court of Delhi to remove the Captcha on the platform and also make it multilingual. This is also reflected in the post title that is again placed as bold text at the end as, “Vaccines are essential, Vaccine passports are not”.

(2) This post has been criticised by persons who are resisting vaccination on social media. Even here my colleague Apar Gupta has clearly indicated that we do not support vaccine hesitancy. You can see his responses here.

(3) We should also acknowledge disagreements. As per your comment you believe in the mandatory imposition of vaccine passports, we believe it carries risks. To us, these cause exclusion and surveillance. Keeping in mind this disagreement, we also agree on many things including the utility of vaccination. Let me now try to respond to some of the issues you have raised.

Responses to your points!

  1. Point 1: Here the objection is to the use of sources as they are Op-eds. These op-eds are by well respected institutions that have expertise on the intersection of data protection, privacy and health. Here, we have relied on them as an expression of expert opinion which can be supported also by the assertion is also WHO’s position. If the issue is only with the citing of the op-eds and lack of scientific evidence, then the WHO position paper should be sufficient here. Please also read this article which is a conversation with 5 experts on their views on vaccine passports. I hope this helps!

  2. Point 2: Here the emphasis comes out naturally again on the concerns around vaccine passports itself. The line you have quoted first proceeds with, “don’t have access…”; “or those who can’t…”; and then only goes to, “don’t want to get one”. In no way have we advocated against this line if it is read in context. Another issue worth considering is the applicable law which at present in India does not require compulsory vaccination by itself. Hence, we are going by what seems reasonable but can also understand you may consider this line “distasteful”, or the entire explainer, “myopic” and such subjectivity rests with every reader. This is entirely your prerogative.

  3. Point 3: You have questioned the citing of Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India. We have not used the judgement to support a factual assertion but as a legal principle. The facts differ substantially in most public law cases, but it does not mean they pronounce a “different right”, The right to travel abroad is a fundamental right and can only be curtailed by a procedure established by law which should be fair, just, and reasonable, not fanciful, oppressive or arbitrary, which has not been done in the present situation. Hence, pronouncements of policy or technical controls for vaccine passports that do not have a legislative, well reasoned basis and place adequate safeguards (these are absent at present) are unconstitutional.

  4. Point 4 is on a cost-benefit analysis and that veers towards your personal subjectivity. We disagree with it but this is your point of view. So no quarrel here!

  5. Point 5 does not require a specific response since the two links attached in the comment are also op-eds (not scientific evidence). Here people can have reasonable differences. The rest is an expression of opinion which you can carry and advocate where our reasoning in the post can be referred again.

I understand the comments on social media, especially Instagram are worrying. But to evade these tricky and polarising topics will be evading IFF’s mission. Vaccine hesitancy impacts of individuals and public health. Here, I would like to clearly signal that IFF in no way endorses it and has conducted work towards universalising vaccination rather than it being digitally rationed to the most able. At the same time, we need to critically evaluate the mandatory imposition of vaccination passports through digital technologies.

I thank you for engaging and will consider any future writing from the lens of your criticism. I believe it will help improve IFF’s practices to write with greater precision and with more primary sources!

1 Like

It doesn’t matter what you’ve said in your earlier works when we are discussing the contents of an individually published piece. That’s just like saying that a student should be given high grade in subject Y because he received a high grade in Subject X. It doesn’t work like that and shouldn’t work like that. The readers are not going to read every work that you’ve done in the past before beginning to read an independent piece of publication. Or is that what you want your reader to do? Therefore, let’s just stick to the contents of the article which is the subject of discussion here.

I don’t understand the use of exclamation mark by you after the statement “Responses to your points”. Is it to express anger? Is that supposed to intimidate me?

Your “angry/ surprised” response to my point 1 is a poor thought argument because the concern I expressed was regarding your use of op-eds to establish a scientific factual assertion made by the author(s). At the cost of repetition, it has to be observed that you categorically stated in your article “it is important to keep in mind that there are still critical unknowns when it comes to whether vaccination is a guarantor of prevention of transmission of the infection”. The op-eds cited do not provide these “critical unknowns” mentioned by you. Why are you directing me to the opinions of “5 experts” on vaccine passports? I could do the same and send you opinion from 10 experts saying the opposite. The point of this conversation is to understand why was said what was said in the article. It is not just about the individual opinion expressed here but rather more about the potential consequences of such opinion. Even at the cost of sounding cliche, I’m going to say- with great power comes great responsibility.

I did not call the author myopic, I called the research myopic. There’s a huge difference between the two. While a myopic person would always view things from their point of view, a myopic research work does not mean the researcher concerned is understood to have always done or be always doing myopic research. It is a comment on the type of research and not a personal remark on the researcher. Unless one is unable to separate the two, in which case the researcher’s bias is proven.

Please don’t insult the intelligence of your readers. Please don’t. Don’t assume what they know or do not know. Luckily, I happen to be a lawyer working with other brilliantly trained lawyers and was trained by what has been frequently credited as the best law institution of India- National Law School of India University. Hate to have said this but could not accept an accusation of lack of legal understanding. The ratio decidendi of judgments by WRIT courts cannot be applied in all kinds of facts and circumstances. The rights pronounced in Maneka Gandhi were pronounced for reasons different than were claimed in the article. Ex turpi causa non oritur actio. Would it have been okay to have allowed people for inbound tourism during 2nd wave of Covid-19 in India because in Maneka Gandhi the SC had pronounced right to travel abroad as an inseverable part of the fundamental right to dignity and personal liberty? Like you said, the right to travel abroad can only be curtailed by procedure established by law which should be fair, just, and reasonable, not fanciful, oppressive or arbitrary. Do you think restrictions on unvaccinated persons to prevent them from travelling for inbound tourism is unjust? Would that be just to vaccinated persons? I feel like you did not understand the primary concern here which is that vaccine passports are being created to resume inbound tourism. The proposition of creating them is not data theft, governments might misuse them for it but it is not the reason for their creation. Else they could have been created instead of AADHAR or any other data stealing government tools. Vaccine passports were not created before because there was no need for them earlier. But there is one now. The efforts should be to make this tool stronger and avoid possibilities of data breach and not to prevent its creation when it is a tool of need.

There was no point 5. It was not an argument against the content. I did not making any scientific factual claims there that would have required scientific data for establishing it. And anyway, it is a comment on an article not a material created for wide circulation. haha you really did compare the accountability of a comment on an article piece made on an inactive forum with that of a widely circulated report. I am amused. Thanks for the honour. And like I said, I had sadly gone to the trouble of producing sources for my views and assertions but due to the limitation of 2 links on my response, I couldn’t. That did give you a chance to compare the responsibility of my comment with that of a widely followed advocacy outlet such as IFF. Cool, thanks haha.

By all means please critically evaluate the mandatory imposition of vaccination passports through digital technologies but evaluating an issue on a single parameter is not critical evaluation especially when there are various other parameters to consider.

A well-worn proverb says that the road to hell is paved with good intentions; most assuredly, the road to nonprofit demise is paved with the same bricks. Just because an organization is dedicated to a moral cause, it does not make it immune from making mistakes. Missions are always bigger than organizations and organizations are always bigger than the individuals who run them.

Best wishes to you, keep up the good work