Vaccine Passports do not guarantee higher vaccination rate

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Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson

Auckland, November 23, 2021

                                                                                                   (Image from Ministry of Health Website)


Given that some opinions in this time of Covid paranoia require certifying, let me say that I am double-vaxxed. Let me add that I want vaccination rates to be higher.

I want businesses to open. I want people to be safe.

But I have misgivings about downloading the government-issued Covid Vaccine Passport.

I wonder if mandates are too blunt of an instrument; I am not sure that they guarantee improved vaccination rates.

Once upon a time the government shared this view. Now it does not.

Mixed views on Vaccination

The reason given is that we want to keep the vaccinated safe. Fair enough. Although vaccines actually are not a panacea against transmission, they do mitigate ill-health and death. The other rationale is to promote (or coerce) vaccination rates to increase.

But do mandates and passports make people actually want to get vaccinated?

Professor Nikki Turner, the Immunisation Advisory Council’s Medical Director says that internationally the evidence is mixed.

In fact, some say that they could do the opposite. A recent study of Israel and the UK suggests that vaccine passports may increase vaccine hesitancy.

As Professor Turner warns, “If [mandates] are poorly directed, implemented in isolation, or without supportive community approaches in place, they’re at risk of backfiring by polarising communities…”

Maori vaccination rates are significantly lower than non-Maori. Given their treatment by authority in this country, that is not surprising. But poverty may also be part of this equation. Italian and UK studies suggest that those who are vaccine resistant or hesitant are often from low socio-economic groups. Canadian studies also support this view.

The poor and less fortunate

Yes, something in me shivers at a certificate that will be used to police my activities. I actually recoil at the thought that this ‘freedom certificate’ may cause some who are less fortunate than me to be more vaccine resistant, and thus further disadvantaged.

How might the job of improving their lot be done better?

Canadian thinktank Cardus suggests carrots rather than sticks.

Reduce transmission through rapid testing. Meet with community leaders to understand the true causes of vaccine hesitancy and use those relationships to address them. Be honest about vaccines not being a silver bullet against transmission.

Of course, adulthood involves sometimes unpalatable trade-offs.

Failed businesses

I think of the 28,000 or so businesses that deregistered in the last eight months. I think of the signs on the main street that say “For Lease” where there were once shops, businesses, and people making a living. We need to do our best against this virus. Public health remains crucial. But let us not use the blunt instrument of passports for too long.

Likely I will grit my teeth and download the App. As I do, I will be recalling this quote by Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Sure, we make this trade-off all the time, but let us be under no illusions. Penalising the marginalised may not solve our health crisis; indeed for the most vulnerable it may even create a new rights crisis.

Tim Wilson is Executive Director of Maxim Institute based in Auckland, New Zealand.

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