Our Ticket to Freedom: Will Vaccination Certificates Restart International Travel?

February 27, 2021

2 min read

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What's going on here?

Some EU countries are calling for the introduction of vaccination certificates in order to allow international travel to restart, but there are concerns that they could cause human rights issues.

What does this mean?

The idea behind vaccination certificates is that they will allow individuals who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel freely and, essentially, to go back to their normal lives. As more and more countries begin to develop vaccination certificate schemes, it seems likely that such certification will become necessary, in the future, for anyone who wants to travel abroad. This has become even more evident as Australian airline Qantas and holiday company Saga have stated that passengers will need to show proof that they have been vaccinated before they can travel. 

Denmark, Sweden, Estonia and Poland are creating vaccination certificates that will allow their citizens to prove that they have been vaccinated, in case they visit a country where vaccination is mandatory. The President of the European Union Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has also supported the creation of a common vaccination certificate to allow vaccinated EU citizens to travel freely between EU countries.

What's the big picture effect?

On its face, the provision of vaccination certificates seems like a good thing. Individuals who have been vaccinated could see their family and friends and even go abroad on holiday. Countries whose economies depend largely on tourism, such as Spain and Greece, could begin to recover financially as international travel resumes. It might also encourage more people to get the vaccine, helping in the challenge to reach herd immunity. 

However, there are concerns that the introduction of vaccination certificates will raise issues regarding human rights. One of the most important legal principles in the UK is autonomy. People have the right to choose what happens to their bodies and, therefore, can refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. But should they then have their freedom restricted whilst others, who have been vaccinated, can return to normal life? Many disagree, arguing that vaccination certificates, used like this, would unjustly discriminate against people who choose not to or physically cannot, receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This, they state, would undermine the emphasis on unity during the pandemic and would infringe their human rights to liberty and freedom of movement. 

Nevertheless, under the European Convention on Human Rights, individuals’ right to liberty can be restricted for the prevention of infectious disease. Vaccinations such as the yellow fever vaccine are already mandatory when travelling to certain countries, so vaccination certificates are nothing new. In that context, mandatory vaccination is typically considered a health precaution rather than a restriction on individuals’ rights. 

In deciding whether to issue vaccination certificates, policymakers and legislators will therefore have to examine whether limiting unvaccinated people’s freedom to travel can be justified. Would it be even more unethical to keep vaccinated people in lockdown when they do not pose a threat to society? These issues will have to be considered alongside the urgent need to revive tourist economies. Thus, the proposed introduction of vaccination certificates will involve important government decision-making about the importance of individuals’ rights to liberty and freedom. 

Report written by Catrin Trefor

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