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Stephen L. Carter

International Travel Won’t Rely on Fancy Vaccine Passports

The best way to reopen borders fast is for rich countries to send vaccines to poor ones.

Let’s goooo.

Let’s goooo.

Photographer: Bloomberg

The World Health Agency has stepped into the controversy over vaccine passports, announcing its opposition. Not enough is known about whether the vaccines prevent transmission, says the WHO. And vaccine passports wouldn’t be fair to poorer countries where vaccination has been slow. They might discriminate against people who can’t be vaccinated. Although the agency has been consistently late to the Covid party, this time, the WHO is probably right, albeit not entirely for the reasons it gives.

Yes, it’s true that vaccine passports would surely entrench the inequality caused by the initial distribution of inoculations. Wealthier countries, as one might expect, have purchased the lion’s share of available doses. The poorer nations are scrambling. To demand some sort of biometric or QR code as proof of vaccination as a condition of international travel would be a poor advertisement for the West’s supposed commitment to equity. However, the claim of inequality might be overcome if such passports are really necessary to economic recovery — as the travel and hospitality industries insist they are. But are they correct?