Thursday, September 23, 2021

Vaccine passports, aye or nay?

As Putrajaya mulls relaxing restrictions for those who have been fully immunised, experts weigh in on the pros and cons of depending on proof of vaccination for greater domestic flexibility.

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Experts have urged Putrajaya to consider the use of vaccine passports to allow flexibility for those who have been fully inoculated against Covid-19 as one of the ways to ease SOPs in line with recent announcements on the matter by government leaders.

Public health expert Dr Sanjay Rampal said 10.3 million of the 18.9 million who registered for vaccination had received a first dose, according to the current rate of vaccination.

He estimated that the government would need another 43 days to vaccinate the remaining 8.6 million.

“The current restrictions on inter-district and interstate travel have become ineffective,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“We should do away with the movement restrictions and re-emphasise the importance of practising the SOPs for at least the next six weeks.”

Sanjay added that those who are still waiting for a vaccination appointment should remember that restrictions on movements are for the sake of their own health.

He also suggested that travellers be tested when visiting closed populations such as those in Langkawi and Tioman if there is no community transmission of the virus on the islands.

The idea of vaccine passports gained currency after Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s recent announcement that Putrajaya would look into easing SOPs for those who have received the full two-dose regime of Covid-19 vaccine.

Such documents have been used to facilitate international travel and to help airlines ascertain the status of passengers before they board their flights.

The European Union, for example, uses vaccine passports for travel within the bloc.

But Ahmad Marthada Mohamed, dean of the College of Law, Government and International Studies at Universiti Utara Malaysia, said vaccine passports should not be the only way that individuals are allowed to cross state lines.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, he said this would be unfair to those who have yet to receive their jabs.

“Using vaccine passports within the country to allow individuals certain privileges will stir up dissatisfaction among the people as some registered for vaccination long ago but are still waiting for their turn,” he said.

“The vaccination process does not depend solely on individuals,” he added. “It also depends on the state, the total amount of doses available, their age, registration and many other factors that could influence whether or not they are chosen.”

Ahmad urged the government to look to developed countries which use three criteria for domestic matters: a person’s vaccination status, whether he or she has ever been infected, and whether the Covid-19 test results are negative.

“If the government wishes to allow privileges within the country as announced, these should be given to anyone who fulfils one of these three criteria,” he said.

He said the use of negative test results which could be renewed every two weeks would be more equitable for domestic purposes, adding that this would require investments in the health system and screening methods that are easily available on a mass scale.

Sanjay however maintains that vaccine passports are a better bet than test results.

“Asymptomatic individuals with no record of close contacts would not need to be screened,” he said, adding that in any case, the RTK Antigen test has poor diagnostic properties in the low-risk, asymptomatic population.

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