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Are vaccine passports ethical?

By Jan Jasiński

Jan Jasiński argues that although vaccine passports are better for the wellbeing of society, the Scottish Government has work to do in terms of their logistics.

Forget about remembering your ID on a night out; you now have to ensure your Covid-19 QR code is up to par. On Friday 1 October the Scottish Government officially put into place a brand new scheme meant to fight Covid-19: the vaccine certificate. The launch has been nothing short of a disaster. The new app proved unable to identify Scots across the country, or insisted that they had not been vaccinated.

The vaccine passport, as it has come to be known, has become a bit of an ethical quagmire, as people across the political spectrum have begun to deride it for supposedly transforming Scotland into some kind of an Orwellian police state. We need to understand, however, that this simple certification is actually a very simple tool for fully leaving this pandemic behind. 

The most basic argument for vaccine passports is one of encouragement. This scheme will likely push more young people to ring up the NHS and get a jab. In France, after a similar vaccine passport scheme was announced, more than one million people signed up for a shot the very next day. Vaccine passports will encourage people to get vaccinated, which will inevitably save lives.

A vaccine certification scheme is also incredibly inclusionary as it allows more people to re-enter crowded environments. A lot of folk might have been scared to do so because of various medical pre-existing conditions, but now they can feel safe knowing those around them are vaccinated. Some people are still very anxious about catching a severe strain of the virus, and knowing that nightclubs have done the bare minimum to ensure their safety might encourage them to visit.

However, the way vaccine passports are being rolled out right now is not sustainable in the slightest. The Scottish government, which hails itself as a guardian of freedom for EU citizens left behind in Brexit Britain, appears to have completely forgotten about the thousands of people who may have received one, let alone both of their doses, outside of the UK. The EU Digital Covid Certificate currently appears not to be readable by the Scottish Covid Status app.

That does not even consider the thousands of people vaccinated outside of Europe. Americans, for the most part do not have any digital record of their vaccinations. Are they going to be entirely excluded from night-time events at GUU and QMU? Is the University ready to ban a lot of their fee-paying international students from a huge chunk of Glasgow student life? Are bouncers at the Garage expected to differentiate between American CDC vaccine cards and vaccine passports apps from Canadian provinces? Will a cashier at Bamboo recognise that a Johnson & Johnson vaccine only consists of one dose?

There are way too many questions right now as to how vaccine passports from outside of Scotland will be checked. Although the idea of the passport will be beneficial to the safety of everyone, the way the scheme is set up right now can quickly become exclusionary, and does not reflect what the Scottish government presents as Scottish values. The scheme needs to be re-worked, and fast, so as to not discourage businesses from enforcing it, and letting it become just another piece of useless safety theatre.


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