Technology

"Vaccination data may additional undermine belief"

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Experts discuss the pros and cons of Covid-19 vaccine passports or other types of certifications as they try to reopen public spaces. The idea seems simple at first glance: those who can prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 could go to places and do things that unvaccinated people would not.

There is initial evidence that the emergency vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration are "highly effective". Tech and healthcare companies are making proposals that use vaccinations as a requirement for participating in various public activities. However, the concept raises a number of questions about community health, justice and how much we really know about immunity to Covid-19.

Nita Farahany is a leading expert on the impact of technology and life sciences on society. She is Professor of Law and Philosophy at Duke University, where she is also the Director of the Science and Society Initiative. From 2010 to 2017 she was a member of a presidential committee for bioethics.

This interview has been compressed and edited for reasons of clarity.

Q: Do we know enough about the science of Covid-19 to use a vaccination record with the assurance that it will prevent transmission?

A: We have limited data from the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna studies very early on that may suggest a reduction in transmission but not an elimination of transmission. A person can be vaccinated and not suffer a heavy burden of disease if they get sick – in fact, they can be completely asymptomatic – but they can still pass the virus on to other people.

Q: We know the basics of vaccines begin to be distributed. How can a vaccination record create inequality?

A: Re-entering society when you receive the vaccine can further exacerbate the inequalities that have emerged. The trust of the minorities in the health system and in health facilities is currently very low. It is deeply problematic to make their reintegration into society dependent on whether or not they are taking a vaccine when they already have such a high level of public suspicion. I think it further undermines trust. It could affect immunization policies, healthcare, and trust in health and science even more than it has before.

The people who are willing to take the vaccine, who have higher levels of trust, or who had earlier access because of wealth or networks, are the ones who would have cracked at jobs when businesses reopened for the first time. They got the first bang in schools and slots at each of these different activities, tickets to events. You have a much longer term impact of anchoring these inequalities that emerged as part of the pandemic.

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Steven Gregory