For decades, visitors to some parts of the world have had to carry certificates testifying to their vaccination against yellow fever. Now, with the world preparing to welcome the first vaccines against coronavirus, it is clear that architecture will have to be designed to ensure those who are vaccinated are able to convey themselves around the world.
As much is clear from an announcement by the World Health Organisation that it is considering electronic vaccination certificates to aid the process. The Geneva-based organisation has announced it is evaluating proposals to work with member states to use technology for such certification.
Something of this nature will be necessary if travel around the world is not to get bogged down in the minutiae of bilateral transport arrangements and creation of bio-bubbles that have set the tone of international travel in the past few months.
These measures, while necessary, were ad hoc and often inflicted untold miseries on those who were forced to travel. Travellers from India, for instance, flying to Singapore to resume work, were on occasion forced to make 15-day halts in Dubai before continuing journeys that ended with a fortnight’s hotel quarantine.
Inconsistencies in Covid test results resulted in air operations being suspended, as when Air India was told by local authorities to cease flying to Hong Kong after travellers who had boarded with negative results tested positive on arrival. Thus, for a variety of reasons, international air travel is still largely restricted, and the aviation industry desperately needs inoculation from mounting losses.
And yet, the world will face many challenges before it is able to reach consensus on the manner and form of e-certification of Covid vaccination. Several factors will come into play. First, there is the hurdle placed by national laws.
Next, there will be questions about the efficacy of different vaccines, and their acceptability. While Europe and North America might be able to come to agreement on the vaccines they will accept, vaccine candidates from Russia, China and India might have to overcome hurdles. Geopolitical factors might also come into play; for instance, India might find it as strategically expedient to dawdle over passengers administered the Sinovac vaccine as China would those who might have received the Bharat Biotech candidate.
Because drug use is regulated by national governments, and not a global body, such challenges will need to be confronted. While the WHO could have played a key role in this exercise, questions about its role early this year persist and may come in the way of universal acceptance of its endorsements.
The likely scenario is that Europe may be the first to agree to a form of e-certification, once it agrees on the vaccines to be administered to its citizens. America will form part of the equation, having produced two of the vaccine front runners. Others, including regional blocs with a history of cooperation, will follow. India must consider ways to plug into the global architecture.