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The missing clarity of mandatory vaccine cards 

23 Dec 2021

Putting into action a new and stricter plan to control the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government and the health authorities have announced that they will make proof of vaccination, mainly vaccine cards, mandatory when entering public places with effect from 1 January 2022.  This decision is not a surprise, as there were rumours as well as official statements about it.  The health authorities – i.e. Head of the now defunct National Operations Centre for the Prevention of the Covid-19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) and Army Commander Gen. Shavendra Silva and Health Ministry officials – first announced the implementation of this plan several months ago and the initial plan was to make proof of vaccination mandatory with effect from 15 September for those above the age of 30 years (the age group that was eligible for both the doses of a Covid-19 vaccine at the time). However, it was put off until the health authorities felt that the country, i.e. the state of vaccination, is ready for such a plan to come into effect. How practical it is, and whether the country is ready now, still remain questions. First and foremost, the Government has not announced any specific details about this plan, except the date of its implementation. In a context where 1 January 2020 is just a week away, this sort of national-level programme – which, if we take into account the number of people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine, has the potential to affect at least 16 million people – must be promoted islandwide, with a focus on making the people aware of how this new regulation can affect them. However, the health authorities’ decision, or announcement, seems incomplete. The country still does not know who exactly will enforce this regulation at the ground level, even though it will most likely be police officers or public health inspectors (PHIs), and the people have not been told what the health authorities mean when they say public places.  The fact that there is no clarity on the degree of the offence/s that non compliance of this new regulation would amount to, what sort of penalty/penalties it/such would attract, and who takes the final decision in that regard, are also concerning. In addition, there is no discussion about what steps would be taken with regard to those who have misplaced the proof of vaccination, and those who have accidentally damaged it. Moreover, at a time when there are people who have taken only the first dose or two doses, or the booster third dose, the Government’s announcement must certainly specify whom this new regulation would be applicable to. At the same time, there are many who were not able to get vaccinated due to health reasons and also people who chose not to get vaccinated due to personal reasons other than health reasons. While there is no argument about what is expected from this regulation, the rights of the latter group to not consent to be vaccinated cannot be ignored despite how big or small they are as a percentage of the population, especially due to the fact that all Covid-19 vaccines are still being further experimented on. One of the key points of the Nuremberg Code, a set of research ethics and principles for experimenting on humans, is that the voluntary consent of humans is absolutely essential when they are being subjected to a medical experiment.  While the Government’s concern about the health risk the unvaccinated can pose is understandable, there should also be a discussion about the needs and wants of the unvaccinated. Once they get banned from public places due to their vaccination status, how are they going to obtain services which can only be obtained from public places? In the case of those who cannot get vaccinated due to health reasons, the least the Government can do is issuing a certificate confirming their health condition, in order to enable them to enter public places only for essential needs, and if they are strictly not allowed to enter public places, authorise someone else to get their work done on their behalf. Moreover, the Government has not specified whether workplaces would be considered public places. If they are considered public places, a considerable number of people, who have not been vaccinated and cannot work from home, would face many forms of issues including denial of entry to the workplace and perhaps discrimination as well. Therefore, there also needs to be some sort of solution to prevent this new regulation from being misused. Another practical challenge the health authorities, or whoever is to be tasked with checking proof of vaccination, have to face is identifying fake vaccine cards. While the health authorities have stored all details pertaining to those who got vaccinated, there is no information about whether the health authorities have a method to make those details available to the officers tasked with checking the proof of vaccination. In a context where several incidents of people getting their vaccine cards signed by the health authorities at vaccination centres without actually obtaining the vaccine have been reported, being prepared to curb such irregularities is extremely important.    The Government’s plan to make proof of vaccination mandatory seems reasonable, because it has a specific genuine objective. However, whether it has a specific plan, is a question, and without concrete steps, neither the Government and the health authorities nor the public would benefit from this move. Moreover, a national-level decision of this nature must be discussed further, and given adequate time for the people to be prepared.

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