UKZN expert explains ’vaccine passports’, certificates amid growing uncertainty
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DURBAN - SOUTH Africans have had mixed reactions to the idea of Covid-19 vaccine passports.
On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa introduced “vaccine passports” for various purposes, amid resistance by many South Africans to getting vaccinated.
But what exactly is a vaccine passport and what will it mean for citizens? Professor Mosa Moshabela, acting deputy vice-chancellor of Research and Innovation in the college of Health Sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, explained: “An electronic vaccine certificate would mean an electronic or digital card with a QR (quick response) code like you have on a ticket. It is a quick mechanism for scanning proof of payment, purchase or in this case vaccination, and generated electronically with a unique barcode, consistent with international standards.”
Moshabela said that this would be a reliable mechanism to prove that a person had been vaccinated against Covid-19. Anyone who was in possession of the certificate could use it as a vaccine passport to gain entrance into areas where vaccination proof was required.
“Once an electronic certificate is created, these can then be used as a vaccine passport, similar to a boarding pass, that allows you passage or entrance into restricted areas. So essentially, vaccine certificates would mean certified proof of vaccination, and passport means the proof is used to enter restricted areas.”
Health Minister Joe Phaahla has confirmed that the Department of Health has begun the process of introducing a digital vaccination certificate.
“This initiative is in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) initiated vaccination certificate. Through this, the WHO is attempting to standardise vaccination proof all over the world so that it cannot be defrauded.”
Phaahla emphasised that the certificate would be protected from fraud and would be accessible on smartphones.
All vaccinated persons whose details appear on the Electronic Vaccination Data System will qualify.
He made it clear that public services would still be accessible to those without vaccine passports.
The DA said it was aware that there were concerns around vaccination certificates.
“These are an important step in documenting those who have been inoculated and who wish to use it to travel abroad. We are not of the view, however, that people should ever be denied government services unless they produce proof of vaccination. Ultimately, that is an individual choice and should be respected,” said Siviwe Gwarube, DA shadow minister of Health.
Gwarube felt that the government should rather focus on effectively and efficiently communicating with the public by conducting community outreach programmes that would encourage more people to vaccinate, so they would reach their 40 million target.
It is not only South Africans who are against carrying a vaccine passport.
The UK government recently dropped its plan to make people in England show vaccine passports to enter crowded events such as nightclubs.
UK Health minister Sajid Javid announced the U-turn, saying the government did not view the move as necessary in the current virus situation, citing high vaccine uptake.
Javid also said that the idea of compulsory showing of documentation at leisure venues made him uncomfortable. – Additional reporting by Kailene Pillay