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Raising inequity worries, WHO opposes proof of vaccination for travelers

Emergency committee says imbalance in global coronavirus vaccine distribution could lead to differential freedom of movement

Illustrative: Arriving passengers walk past a sign in the arrivals area at Heathrow Airport in London, Jan. 26, 2021. (Matt Dunham/AP)
Illustrative: Arriving passengers walk past a sign in the arrivals area at Heathrow Airport in London, Jan. 26, 2021. (Matt Dunham/AP)

GENEVA, Switzerland — The World Health Organization’s emergency committee said Monday it was against international travelers being required to have proof of vaccination, partly on grounds such a measure would deepen inequities.

“Do not require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, given the limited (although growing) evidence about the performance of vaccines in reducing transmission and the persistent inequity in the global vaccine distribution,” the committee said in a statement summarizing its April 15 meeting, the results of which were only published on Monday.

“States Parties are strongly encouraged to acknowledge the potential for requirements of proof of vaccination to deepen inequities and promote differential freedom of movement,” the committee added.

The group’s recommendation comes as numerous countries are mulling launching vaccine passports for travelers as well as for other activities including sports.

The idea, however, has met with criticism, with many saying it would lead to discrimination between young and old as well as rich and poor. Some have also raised privacy concerns.

European Union member states have already agreed on vaccine certificates, China has launched a health certificate program for travelers, and airline companies are also considering requiring vaccination proof.

The United States for its part said earlier this month that it would not require vaccination passports but added that the private sector was free to explore the idea.

The WHO’s emergency committee also discussed other issues during its meeting last week, including increasing access to COVID-19 vaccines and reducing national and global inequities as far as access to vaccines.

The committee also urged the WHO to accelerate research on the origins of the virus and called for better regulations on animal markets.

In addition, it said “the sale or import of wild animals that pose a high risk of transmission of novel pathogens from animals to humans or vice versa” should be discouraged.

The WHO, for now, has only approved three vaccines for the coronavirus — the one manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine made in India and South Korea, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The novel coronavirus, which is thought to have made the species jump from the animal world, has killed more than three million people worldwide since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019.

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