Ever since the first Covid-19 vaccines were approved late last year, the issue of mandates has been a matter of heated debates across the world, more so in the Western countries and particularly in the United States with its cherished values of liberty and fair share of people referred to as 'anti-vaxxers'.
The Supreme Court of the US has refused to strike down at least two such vaccine mandates passed at the state-level so far but that in no way can be construed as signal for its silent nod to such passports because such decisions can vary from case to case depending on the merit. On the other hand, Florida’s governor Ron De Santis last month signed a legislation banning businesses and public entities from issuing vaccine mandates.
Vaccine mandates or passports are basically the proof of inoculation, in this case against the Covid-19. Both the public or private entities may insist, or rather they have been insisting, on these for common citizens to indulge in any activity that falls under their sphere of governance.
Such mandates make sense if used by a State which ‘speaks harshly and carries a small stick’ i.e. by an actor which will talk a lot but a implement a rule only lightly. That would achieve the goal of nudging more people to take the jab. The ideal example of such a soft state would be of India, quite unlike the polar opposite United States, a strong State which follows by heart its former President Teddy Roosevelt’s dictum, exactly opposite of the maxim mentioned in the first line of this paragraph.
In an ideal scenario where all available Covid-19 vaccines stopped transmission or infection completely, vaccine mandates would’ve made immense sense from the point of view of public health because one could’ve made the case that the ones who are unvaccinated and going on and about are being irresponsible and putting the lives of others at risk by keeping themselves open to infection. Unfortunately, that reasoning is not so strong as we know that even fully vaccinated can not only get infected but spread the disease to others.
In fact, the spread of the Omicron variant to various continents in matter of days can be blamed on the fully vaccinated for they are the only ones who are actually eligible to travel thanks to vaccine mandates by airlines and countries. Moreover, just as the threat of Omicron has emerged, vaccine passports have taken a backseat and now the private (airlines, hotels, etc) or government entities are insisting on negative Covid-19 test report 72/48/xyz hours before boarding, travel, etc.
“As per the GoK circular dated July 31, 2021, a negative RT-PCR report not older than 72 hours is mandatory - irrespective of vaccination status - for passengers arriving from Maharashtra. The document will be verified by the airline staff at the time of boarding itself,” tweeted the official handle of Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru.
In light of this, one wonders what are vaccine passports good for?
To be clear, one is not raising any doubt on the need to get vaccinated. They are are still the best weapon in the arsenal against Covid-19. So, from an individual’s health perspective, they are critical. Even for public health, they have an important role because more vaccinations decrease the risk of hospitalisation therefore lessening the burden on public health infrastructure.
So, as far as light mandates on vaccines are tactically devised to incentivise more people to take the jab, it‘s fine. But putting overarching focus on this aspect to the point of causing disaffection among people will only be counterproductive. In any case, when more than 80 per cent of adults have voluntarily taken the first dose and more than half are fully vaccinated, it makes little sense for the State to die on this hill. If inoculation of 80 per cent population cannot stop the tragedy, a few percentage points would not be of much help either. The tradeoff is simply not worth it to spend any political capital on it.
Again, to be clear: Vaccines are good from point of view of personal health. But vaccine passports not so much even from point of view of public health.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.