EU to vote on vaccine passports this week

Sometimes I really hate it when I’m right. As I predicted last Christmas, the world is moving steadily closer to a two-tier society comprised of those with and without immunity to the novel coronavirus. In order to prove that you’re one of the lucky, free people who have gained immunity, you were obviously going to need some sort of official documentation, ushering in the need for what I’ve been calling “immunity passports.” We’ve seen the beginnings of such a plan in some American cities and in the travel industry, but the European Union will be meeting this week and likely voting on a sweeping system of that sort. They’re calling them “vaccination passports,” but the upshot is the same. And why are they doing it? Because tourist season is nearly here and they need to open the resorts. (NY Post)

The European Union’s executive body proposed Wednesday issuing certificates that would allow EU residents to travel freely across the 27-nation bloc by the summer as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19 or recovered from the disease.

With summer looming and tourism-reliant countries anxiously waiting for the return of visitors amid the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission foresees the creation of certificates aimed at facilitating travel between EU member nations. The plan is set to be discussed during a summit of EU leaders next week,

“We all want the tourist season to start. We can’t afford to lose another season,” European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova told Czech public radio. “Tourism, and also culture and other sectors that are dependent on tourism, terribly suffer. We’re talking about tens of millions of jobs.”

The lockdown of those not fortunate enough to have such a document in Europe will be even harsher than anything we’re starting to see in the United States. European citizens don’t enjoy the same level of constitutional freedoms that Americans do and their governments are far more free to restrict their movements and other liberties. Most of the borders in the EU have been closed since the pandemic struck, but now that they need those tourism dollars (or Euros, actually) that’s probably about to change.

The major objections to the plan are coming from the EU nations with less tourism and more problems with the virus. The majority of countries over there are doing far worse than we are in the United States in terms of getting people vaccinated. (And America is still a very long way from herd immunity.) That means that only a comparative handful of Europeans will qualify for a vaccination passport. The few who do will be free to cross borders and move about as they used to. But most of them will remain locked down while they wait for their turn to get jabbed.

The issues caused by this will slowly dwindle as the vaccines become more universally available, but they’ll never go away entirely. There are people out there who have underlying conditions and comorbidities that make receiving the vaccine inadvisable. Other people are just unsure if they trust the shots, particularly after multiple countries shut down the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine over worries about blood clots. If you can’t or won’t volunteer to be vaccinated, you won’t qualify for the required travel papers. But nobody in the EU governing body seems to be particularly worried about that little detail at the moment.

Not all of the member countries are onboard yet, however. Both France and Germany have raised objections, describing the vaccination passport system as “premature and discriminatory” pointing out that a large majority of EU citizens haven’t had access to vaccines. But southern, Mediterranian countries such as Greece and Spain are pushing to implement the system as quickly as possible so they can start bringing back tourists.

Meanwhile, the European Commission was quick to insist that “being vaccinated will not be a precondition to travel.” That’s technically true, but they went on to say that you would still need some form of “green certificate” showing that you have tested negative or that you have already had the disease and recovered. That works out to pretty much the same thing.

Exit question: Since a lot of those tourists who spend their money in Europe come from the United States, what provisions will they have for people from non-EU countries to obtain one of these magical passports? Has anyone even started considering these questions?