Travelling the world with a metaphorical loaded gun isn’t a right, claims Holly Tarn.


Amid reports that the UK is set to join Europe in the introduction of a “Digital Green Pass”, there has been backlash from some UK citizens who claim that any form of vaccine documentation is an impingement on their civil liberties. Here, I will argue that whilst choosing not to get a vaccine may well be a right, that travelling the world with a metaphorical loaded gun isn’t. 

The reasoning against vaccine passports is this: those that don’t have access to vaccines, or choose not to get vaccinated, should not have their travel restricted, as this is discriminatory. 

Let’s begin with those who choose not to be vaccinated. I’m referring here to those that either don’t believe in the harms of COVID, or don’t believe in the safety of a vaccination. It’s important for me to note here that I don’t believe that callously disregarding the opinion of people who are against vaccinations is productive to the debate. 

I also am aware that people who have made the decision not to vaccinate have done so in the hope of protecting themselves and their loved ones. Having said that, anti-vaccination arguments are at odds with empirical evidence. So without passing judgement or blame, I believe we can say that we know two things about this group of people: we know that their beliefs are contrary to proven science, and we know that their beliefs have the ability to harm themselves and others. 

Given that people who choose not to be vaccinated have the ability to harm others, should society be able to restrict their freedom of movement? In other situations, it is a societal norm to restrict people’s freedoms if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others (whether they intend to be or not). 

We use a variety of safeguards to ensure everyone’s safety, such as restraining orders, and imprisonment. Of course, this type of action would not be appropriate in the case of people who chose not to be vaccinated, but restricting their movement, if it means halting the spread of the virus and saving lives, I believe is entirely appropriate. 

Some vaccine opposers say that it’s discriminatory to have to show documentation in order to have freedom of movement, but this is already the case in many situations. We use a passport at borders to identify ourselves; we use ID in a pub to show we are not under 18; and indeed, we already use a ‘vaccine passport’ to show we have been inoculated against certain diseases, such as Yellow Fever.  These are widely accepted as necessary safeguards to protect the wider community from actions of a potentially dangerous minority. 

But what about those that haven’t had the opportunity to be vaccinated? Let’s say in the summer Greece decides to open its borders to people with a vaccine passport only. Many people across Europe (mainly those that are young and healthy and so are lowest priority) may not have had the opportunity to be vaccinated yet. 

Is this unfair? Well in plain terms, yes. However, being fair isn’t what is always right. I believe that sometimes the greater good of your community, country and world should come before your individual needs.

Although I am yet to have a vaccine and probably won’t for some time, I am more than happy to sit back and watch others holiday safely, whilst I wait my turn until I can travel safely. The other option here is to wait until everybody has equal access to the COVID vaccine, however, this may take quite some time and make an inevitable dent in the suffering economy of the European holiday market. 

If vaccine passports were to be introduced, it could unlock all sorts of activities that have been restricted by COVID – not only the international travel industry but also domestic activities such as concerts and festivals. This would not only be a boost for the economy but also for our mental health and social cohesion. 

However, this pro vaccine passport argument comes with some caveats. Firstly, it should come as secondary to regular and rapid testing, which has proven to be the most effective method of reducing community spread. 

Secondly, the government should simultaneously develop a framework of social inclusion (for example ensuring that everyone has the technology required to use their passport, and ensuring the minimisation of exclusions of certain minority groups because of unequal access to healthcare). 

With all this in place, I believe vaccine passports could unlock a world of freedom for the majority, whilst the minority of people yet to be vaccinated can sit back in the comfort that they are supporting their communities, whilst waiting their turn to do the right thing.  

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