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As airline group trials health passport, are coercive vaccine tactics just around the corner?

Significant players are toying with the idea of mandatory vaccines for travel, but just how realistic is the proposal?

There’s a wide variety of views on how likely it is that airlines will require passengers to be vaccinated, witnessed not least in the hallowed pages of Gript.ie’s commentary on the matter.

Whereas some punters see the idea as nigh on impossible to implement and therefore not something to worry about, others see it as the end game of pharmaceutical giants who would profit handsomely by inoculating as many people as possible, presumably on an annual basis because of mutations.

There are of course many people who enjoy deriding “anti-vaxxers” for their inherent suspicion of the motives animating world leaders and philanthropic foundations in taking stringent measures against Covid-19 to begin with, but the possibility of coercing individuals into taking vaccines by mandating it for travel is something that concerns a significantly larger portion of people who are otherwise ambivalent about the issue.

Given that an airline as large as Qantas has confirmed it will require international travellers to show proof of vaccination, it’s certainly within the bounds of possibility that other carriers will follow suit.

Although Ryanair has announced it won’t require proof for travellers within the EU, presumably due to freedom of movement provisions, the overall trade association for 290 airlines, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), seems to have left the door wide open to the possibility by piloting a digital health passport verifying “the secure flow of necessary testing or vaccine information among governments, airlines, laboratories and travellers”.

“Today borders are double locked,” states IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac. “Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures.

“The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with traveller identities in compliance with border control requirements. That’s the job of IATA Travel Pass.”

The key phrase here of course is “border requirements”. It’s not likely that many airlines will want to make vaccines mandatory for travel, risking loss of business, but individual governments could very well make it necessary for arriving passengers, a step that airlines would have to comply with.

Something similar is already common in many parts of Africa where Yellow Fever is a problem, with international travellers having to show a vaccine certificate upon arrival.

Opponents of mandatory Covid-19 travel vaccines will say this coronavirus is a lot less lethal than Yellow Fever and such a requirement would be disproportionate to the threat, but try convincing a critical mass of politicians to take up that particular argument.

The contactless travel app is to be trialed sometime in 2021 by the IATA, with details not yet known on where it will be used and by whom.

The reality is however that Covid-19 vaccines will take quite some time to distribute and administer to the masses, making any mandatory travel vaccine a long way off.

Added to that, the announcement by the Scottish Chief Medical Officer that pregnant women and those planning to become pregnant within 3 months should not take the Pfizer vaccine for now is another reason to suspect mandatory travel vaccines might not be on the horizon.

“We are not advising that those who are pregnant or who plan to be pregnant within the next three months receive this vaccine at this point in time,” CMO Dr. Gregor Smith said.

“The reason for that is the limited amount of data we have on the use of the vaccine in that group just now.”

The guidance document issued by the UK government also advised under-18s not to take the injection until further data on safety and immunogenicity becomes available.

These unknowns are sure to make airlines uncomfortable with the idea of mandatory vaccinations, whilst governments bound to respect the freedom and privacy of their citizens and visitors might think twice about any coercive attempts to vaccinate the uncertain among us.

Whether they will use more carrot and less stick around vaccines is anyone’s guess at this point, but for those who remain distrustful of the political powers that be, they have every right to remain vigilant.

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