Africa CDC says vaccine passports 'inappropriate' for now

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A woman receives a dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative, at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi, Thursday, April 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga)

KAMPALA – The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday described COVID-19 vaccine passports as “inappropriate" while poor countries lag behind others in acquiring the shots.

“Our position is very simple. That any imposition of a vaccination passport will create huge inequities and will further exacerbate them,” Dr. John Nkengasong told a briefing.

“We are already in a situation where we don't have vaccines, and it will be extremely unfortunate that countries impose a travel requirement of immunization certificates whereas the rest of the world has not had the chance to have access to vaccines."

Vaccine passports are documents that show that travelers have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently tested negative for the virus. Technology companies and travel-related trade groups in some wealthy countries are developing and testing out passports to encourage travel.

The matter of vaccine passports has been a hotly debated topic around the world, including in the United States and Israel. One question relates to whether governments, employers, and organizers of large gatherings have a right to know about a person’s virus status. Many disagree over what the right balance is between a person’s right to medical privacy and the collective right of groups of people not to be infected with a dangerous disease.

Critics also point out that such vaccine passports will enable discrimination against poor nations that do not have ready access to vaccines.

Only 2% of all vaccine doses administered globally have been in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

The Africa CDC warned last week that the continent is unlikely to meet its vaccination targets amid supply delays from a key manufacturer. Africa has been mostly reliant on the global COVAX initiative, which aims to ensure that low- and middle-income countries have fair access to the shots. But the Serum Institute of India recently announced that as many as 90 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine destined for COVAX worldwide will be delayed through the end of April as India’s government grapples with a spike in infections at home.