Anxious to open its borders after a year of pandemic, the European Union should present this Wednesday (17) a project to create a digital certificate attesting to vaccination against Covid-19, which would be the first step towards authorization to circulate again among the member countries of the bloc.
The “green pass,” as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called it, will provide information on the immunization status of each carrier, as well as the history of testing for the coronavirus.
The aim is to enable European citizens to “move safely” through the 27 member countries – and outside them through cooperation projects with international organizations.
In the direction of global integration, China took the lead and last week launched an app with a similar goal.
The geolocation features of the Chinese digital passport also allow, for example, the system to identify if a user has been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with Covid-19 or has been in a location with high rates of contagion. – which could motivate mobility restrictions. The press linked to Xi Jinping’s regime praised the Chinese launch, a few days after calling the European initiative “unworkable”.
Aside from geopolitical disputes, similar measures are under consideration – or already implemented, as in the case of Israel – in several countries. The prospect that immunity passports can ease restrictions that have so affected economic growth.
Associated with vaccination campaigns, these certificates would accelerate the pace of the final recovery. The strategy makes sense from the point of view of public health, because it makes it possible to limit the movement of people thanks to security criteria, assesses Fernando Aith, professor at the School of Public Health of the USP and director of the Center. for Law Studies and Research Sanitary at the same university.
For Aith, however, the initiative is of great concern as it may lead to deepening social inequalities. “Whoever can circulate in the world will be the one who has access to the vaccine. And since the one who has access to it, in general, is in the richest countries, this tends to widen further the gap that exists between developed countries and the underdeveloped countries, “he says.
According to the professor, respect for immunity passports should worsen the phenomenon of “health security”, in which rich countries act more to preserve their own interests than for international cooperation to promote the right to health universally.
“The consequence of this measure is to create second-class citizens in every country and around the world,” says Aith, for whom a more adequate and effective solution would be a joint and coordinated investment to universalize access to vaccines.
This is also the position of the World Health Organization (WHO). Last week, Michael Ryan, the entity’s executive director, advised against the use of immunity passports as a criteria for authorizing international travel due to low immunization coverage around the world. “Vaccination is just not available enough around the world, and it is certainly not available on an equitable basis,” he said.
It is not yet clear how long those who have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and cured could be considered immune to the disease. Cases of reinfection, although rare, do exist – and they are growing as variants of the virus circulate uncontrollably in some countries. Would collections also be eligible to receive the immunity passport?
The short answer, for Rebecca Brown, a researcher at the Uehiro Center for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, is yes. “There is a clear ethical imperative not to restrict the freedom of movement of people if it does not threaten the health of others,” he says.
“If people are immune, keeping them in jail will not help prevent the spread of infection and so we have no justification for restricting their freedom on this basis.”
Since last year, Brown has been studying the practicalities and challenges of introducing immunity passports. In an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in August, she said this measure should be evaluated on the basis of concepts such as justice, collective social cooperation and impacts on civil liberties.
The researcher also suggests that passports should be adopted in conjunction with public policies such as expanding free testing and even introducing additional penalties for those who fail to meet the guidelines.
Overall, however, Brown cautions against possible different levels of tolerance for travelers entering certain countries. New Zealand, for example, whose response to the pandemic is among the most successful, would, according to this logic, have a much finer sieve in its permit policy than European countries whose economy is strongly linked to tourism, like Spain and Greece.
But the effectiveness of passports is still hampered by a lack of scientific clarity or insufficient data on vaccination. With the emergence of more deadly and more contagious coronavirus variants, uncertainties remain about the level of vaccine effectiveness.
This helps ensure that those who have not been vaccinated or who have developed some degree of immunity after being infected enter a kind of limbo, explains Jon Rueda, researcher in the field of bioethics at the University of Granada, Spain.
He defends the adoption of immunity passports which he believes could reduce the economic, psychological and social damage caused by detention, but has some reservations.
“It makes no sense to grant this right only to people who have been vaccinated without at the same time recognizing the same right to those who have natural immunity because they have been infected, and without giving safe alternatives to people who have not. belong to neither of the two groups, ”he says.
“We also cannot lose sight of the fact that fundamental rights must be respected and benefits must be distributed equitably, with particular attention to socially disadvantaged groups,” adds the researcher.
Some of these basic rights are at stake as resources such as the application launched by China become objects of increasing demand, explains Ronaldo Lemos, lawyer, director of the Institute of Technology and Society of Rio de Janeiro and columnist for Folha .
“It’s like a compromise, a compensation, where to exercise a fundamental right, which is the right to mobility, you have to give up problems, such as privacy,” he explains.
According to the expert, the type of technology used in Chinese immunity passports is similar to what has been observed in the pandemic response strategies of other Asian countries. Japan, South Korea and Singapore, for example, have used contact tracing systems to quickly identify possible new sources of coronavirus contamination and determine restrictions on more specific geographic cuts.
“These countries have a greater tradition of social control using technology. So when this type of passport reaches the West, it is clear that there will be problems,” says Lemos.
The threat to privacy is the main one of these issues, as it can always be suspected that the data collected may be used for commercial purposes, surveillance and even political persecution.
“You will only have privacy if you live in a cave,” says Professor Vivaldo José Breternitz, of the Faculty of Computer Science and Computer Science at the Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie. “You have to have rules that punish those who abuse people’s data.”
In Europe, these rules exist. The European bloc’s data use legislation is among the strongest in the world, according to Lemos, and served as the inspiration for the general data protection law in Brazil. In the case of China, it remains to be seen what kind of counterweight will oppose the thesis that the ends – controlling the pandemic – justify the means.
In Israel, which has the world’s fastest accelerated Covid-19 vaccination program, the green pass system adopted three weeks ago is gaining political contours and causing dissent in society. Groups of people who do not want to be vaccinated say that those who use the certificate encourage an environment of discrimination.
The Tel Aviv and Jerusalem sites have resumed their schedules, only for those with a green passport, and still with capacity restrictions. Gyms, restaurants and hotels are also operational again, but only for people who have been vaccinated.
However, not all establishments can request the presentation of the vaccination certificate. Staple stores, malls and supermarkets cannot demand it.
Ilian Marshak, photographer and YouTuber, says he does not intend to be vaccinated because he believes that the implementation of passports puts pressure on those who are afraid of being vaccinated and feeds the feeling of rivalry between them and those who have already received their doses.
Recent polls published by the Israeli press indicate that 25% of the just over 4 million who have not yet received the vaccine do not intend to do so. Of this group, 41% fear the side effects of the immunizer and 30% do not believe in its effectiveness.
“Although no law requires us to be vaccinated, you will be trapped because you no longer have the same rights that other Israelis have, access to services,” argues Marshak, who says he is against compulsory vaccination, not against the immunizer itself.
“It’s important that I can choose whether I want something to be introduced into my body with a needle. And when the state begins to give certificates to those who have been vaccinated so that this person can carry out social activities, I who do not want to feel excluded and hampered in my rights.
The use of green passes has also caused disagreements among groups of friends, family and, most importantly, on social media. “I have a childhood friend who works against the vaccine on Facebook. She is a teacher and says she is afraid that she will not be able to teach more because she does not want to be vaccinated, ”says chef Temar Shany Gal, who has already received her doses. According to her, the friend considers absurd that the population is vaccinated “like cattle”.
Questions and answers
How does the immunity passport work? In practice, this is a vaccination certificate granted to those who have already received doses of the vaccine against Covid-19. There are discussions about the concession to those who have already been infected with the coronavirus and have recovered, but there is still a lack of scientific clarity on how long this immunity will last.
Is it connected to the physical chip of the passport? Not yet. In countries where it has already been launched, such as China and Israel, the passport is accessible through a smartphone app.
What data do passports hold? The certificate mainly stores information about the coronavirus vaccination, as well as the history of detection tests. The Chinese passport also includes geolocation features that can help track possible outbreaks of contamination.
Is the system unified? The existing initiatives are not yet linked to each other. The proposal presented by the European Union must, however, include a single system for the 27 countries of the bloc. China is exploring integration at the global level through international cooperation partnerships.