Vaccine Certification And Passports- A Dangerous Path For Bodily Autonomy, Equity, And Freedoms

COVID-19 Vaccination Passport | Photo by Lukas

BY MARI-CLAIRE PRICE

June 21st, the date we are all waiting for in the UK. Travel, friends, family, festivals, parties, weddings….it truly is the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. However, with this glimmer of hope comes a stark reality that this is a very dangerous and fragile time for our freedoms and rights, that have already been so drastically dismantled over the past year.

As Naomi Klein describes in her book, The Shock Doctrine- The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, ‘ in moments of crisis, people are willing to hand over a great deal of power to anyone who claims to have a magic cure’. After over a year of lockdowns, tier systems, a health system brought to its knees, 127,000 deaths, restrictions on movement, criminalization of covid measures, a failed track and trace system, a myriad of changing social, movement, and sanitary measures and laws, mental health crisis, panic and fear, this is an extremely opportunistic time for all governments, including our own.  With a public high on the potential of freedom, weary from the consequences of a grotesquely failed government approach to the pandemic, and a desperate desire to return to ‘normal’, any ‘magic cure’ for freedom will come with a heavy price. 

A vaccination/ test/ antibody certification or the requirement to take part in social and economic activities, says one thing and one thing only; that individuals must get the vaccine, prove antibodies or a negative test, or be subject to their own ongoing personal lockdown, and potentially in the future, fines and criminalization.

In the face of ever creeping authoritarianism in every region, we have a government in the UK that has introduced the largest expansion of executive power since peacetime, criminalized public health measures in response to the pandemic, and bolstered its mass surveillance powers despite already having the most extreme surveillance laws of any democratic state. The policing bill, currently under consideration in parliament, is just one example of the government’s unwavering affection for ineffective and harmful punitivism, criminalization, policing, and prison. 

Despite the WHO stating that vaccine certification/passports would not be an effective strategy, and  bodies such as the Nuffield Council on Bioethics stating that ‘such passports could enable coercive and stigmatising workplaces, thereby compounding current structural disadvantages’, in recent months the UK government, alongside other governments, has been reviewing the possibility of domestic and international  COVID-status certification programmes. These measures are being proposed as a way to reduce restrictions on social contact, and similarly reduce restrictions  for international travel. This has been met with pushback from businesses that would be affected by such a certification scheme, those that are opposed to vaccines, and a cross party coalition of MPs including left members of the Labour party. 

There has historically been high vaccine uptake in the UK, but a certification programme risks increased reluctance and questioning. It should be an ethical and moral decision by individuals, that can only be realised with true community work, information, education, support, funding, leadership, and equity.

If vaccine certifications/ passports are standard, we will likely  be required to present proof of vaccination, a negative test, or antibodies for services we use, social movement and travel, engagement in the community, job and education opportunities, and access to health care. There is also significant possibility that misuse, underuse, or no use at all will be potentially criminalized. Criminalization and penal response to the public health crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, has been the preferred tool in the hands of the UK government, and many other governments. Vaccination certifications will be no different.  Similarly, a national ID system has been debated for some time, with support and push for it rising as a supposed response to the pandemic. 

Add to that the realities that most marginalized communities would face in the context of a vaccine certificate program; young people, migrants, sex workers, low income workers, undocumented people etc. A vaccination/ test/ antibody certification requirement to take part in social and economic activities, says one thing and one thing only; that individuals must get the vaccine, prove antibodies or a negative test, or be subject to their own ongoing personal lockdown, and potentially in the future, fines and criminalization. Domestic and international vaccine certification could have devastating impacts for these communities and their freedom of movement, opportunities, access to safe working conditions, and access to services. 

The answer to vaccine apathy or refusal, should not be vaccination by force or coercion, which is what a vaccine certification programme does. It’s a difficult reality, but coercion, criminalization and penalization will only further drive the divisions and inequalities that have already been highlighted and exacerbated by the pandemic.

People should be free to get the vaccine if they feel informed, safe, confident, and comfortable with it. If they don’t, it is their right and their autonomy over their own life, body, and decisions, to not. The key to any vaccine programme, is to do the work to make sure the public are safe and informed. Considering getting vaccinated is a matter of caring for your community and the most vulnerable within it, but it should not be a legal, criminal, penal, mandatory or otherwise requirement to care for your community. There has historically been high vaccine uptake in the UK, but a certification programme risks increased reluctance and questioning. It should be an ethical and moral decision by individuals, that can only be realised with true community work, information, education, support, funding, leadership, and equity. If the sad reality is that we do not live within a society that cares for one another enough to welcome and care for refugees risking their lives to escape conflict, then it is also a sad reality that that some individuals in the  same society may not want to be vaccinated for ‘the greater good’, even if the reasoning is fuelled by the waves of misinformation and conspiracy we see every day around COVID-19.

 The answer to vaccine apathy or refusal, should not be vaccination by force or coercion, which is what a vaccine certification programme does. It’s a difficult reality, but coercion, criminalization and penalization will only further drive the divisions and inequalities that have already been highlighted and exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Not getting the vaccine because of fears of microchips or otherwise, is a common conspiracy theory we see. The probable introduction of vaccine certification, the huge amount of data and privacy issues that come with it, the power being handed to tech companies, and the not so distant memories of a failed track and trace system and government surveillance powers, proves the microchip theories to be a ludicrous concept that is born from a, not so ludicrous, fear of violations of privacy and individual liberty. 

The right wing in the UK have taken hold of this issue as their new ‘crusade’. As with Brexit, they are claiming to champion the rights to freedom and personal sovereignty by opposing covid certification programs. But theirs is not a true call for personal freedoms and autonomy. The left in the UK and those working on justice, autonomy, health, and human rights, must strongly oppose the introduction of any kind of mass vaccination certification, and amplify the voices, analysis, and alternatives being shared by commentators  who are truly concerned with the ‘discriminatory and exclusionary’ system such a programme could bring about, and the alternatives that ensure health, equity, and freedom.