WHO Explores E-Vaccination Certificates for International Travel

Estonia started testing a 'digital immunity passport' earlier this year
WHO is sticking to their guidance against using immunity passports
WHO is sticking to their guidance against using immunity passports

As international boundaries re-open and several countries prepare to start mass vaccination programmes, the World Health Organization (WHO) is considering e-vaccination certificates as a method to open up international air travel. 

In a statement to reporters from Copenhagen, WHO officials said that it does not recommend countries issue "immunity passports" for those who have recovered from COVID-19 but says e-vaccination certificates may be an option.

In October this year, Estonia and the WHO started a pilot project for a digital vaccine certificate to strengthen the WHO-backed COVAX initiative to boost vaccinations in developing countries. It was aiming to track people who had recovered from COVID-19 and had developed some immunity.

"We are looking very closely into the use of technology in this COVID-19 response, one of them how we can work with member states toward an e-vaccination certificate," said Siddhartha Datta, Europe's WHO programme manager for vaccine-preventable in a statement to some media platforms.  

Datta emphasised that any technology initiative must not overwhelm countries in the midst of pandemic responses, must conform to laws, and work across borders seamlessly. For instance, some national COVID-19 tracing apps do not function abroad.

Another issue is, it's still not clear how long the immunity from the virus lasts after the vaccine is given.

Media reports quoted Catherine Smallwood, the WHO's senior emergency officer for Europe, who has said that the agency was sticking to guidance against using immunity passports as a way of resuming some cross-border travel normalcy. "We do not recommend immunity passports, nor do we recommend testing as a means to prevent transmission across borders," Dr Smallwood said, urging countries instead to base travel guidance on COVID-19 transmission data. Dr Smallwood also said rapid antigen tests, in use by some airlines to test passengers boarding or getting off flights, may be "less appropriate" for enabling international travel. The antigen tests are less accurate than molecular PCR tests, so some infected passengers could slip through the cracks.

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