Amidst celebrations and feelings of relief that vaccines against COVID 19 have been approved and immunizations have begun, there is still some amount of skepticism about the safety of the drugs. There have been reports of adverse allergic reactions to COVID 19 vaccines giving further rise to concerns. Since the first reported severe reaction, guidelines have been issued about getting the shots. In a bid to allay fears, several leaders and influencers across the globe have taken the vaccine on screen, among them are America’s Vice President Mike Pence, Head of the Whitehouse’s coronavirus task force and his wife Karen, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and infectious Diseases.
The vaccine has not yet reached Jamaica; The Prime Minister has pledged that it will be free to all Jamaicans as soon as it is available. The health ministry has said that over 200, 000 Jamaicans will get vaccinated in the first batch. Scepticism has been reported from within the health ministry itself with the Nurses Association of Jamaica’s president Patsy Edwards- Henry saying that members are concerned about the safety of the vaccine and feel pressured by the public to take the vaccine first. However, Minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Christopher Tufton, has cited the effectiveness of existing vaccines to fight diseases such as polio, measles and diphtheria and rubella in his bid to address concerns about the COVID 19 vaccine.
Interestingly, there is the speculation that should the vaccine be a requirement for travel especially to the United States of America most Jamaicans would not have second thoughts about taking it. This is against the perception that many Jamaicans would do almost anything to have a US Visa and be able to travel to the US. Travelling to the US or other parts of the world is not an experience cherished by only Jamaicans, prior to the pandemic approximately 1.4 billion people travelled annually.
No doubt, travelers are anxious for some amount of normalcy to return so that they can engage in their pastime. The availability of the vaccines provides hope that this may be possible in the near future. However, according to CNN’s Rishi Lyengar,
“If you want to travel next year you may need a vaccine passport.”
Lyengar’s theory is worthy of consideration. While governments have said that they will not make taking the vaccine mandatory, other policies within the country or by outside influences could leave people with little or no choice but to get vaccinated.
With travellers being required to provide proof of COVID-19 test results, tech companies and groups have been developing apps and other systems to enable people to upload details of their test results. It is possible that proof of vaccination could be a feature of these apps and systems. According to Lyegar these
“digital credentials can be shown in order to enter concert venues, stadiums movie theatres, offices or even countries.”
To date the Commonpass app and the Digital Health Pass are among those developed that allows users to “upload medical data and or allow companies and venues to customize indicators they would require for entry including coronavirus results, temperature checks and vaccination records.” Privacy is the major concerns regarding the development of such digital health credentials applications.
Getting a vaccine is not a new requirement for travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an extensive list on its website of vaccines recommended and required to travel to specific countries. Several arguments are being forwarded in support of as well as against the COVID 19 passport. However, for now the effectiveness of the passport is the major issues because that is dependent on the effectiveness of the vaccine. According to Dr Julie Parsonnet, an infectious disease specialist at Stanford University,
“The vaccine passport will show that you have received the vaccine but it may not guarantee that you safely attend an event or get on a flight, it is still not clear if vaccinated people can transmit the virus or not.”