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For or Against the Vaccine Passport? The COVID-19 Dilemma

wuhan, vacuna, laboratorio

One feels the need to start a piece like this by stating the obvious: I stand for vaccination and science. Since their implementation, vaccines have saved millions of lives, and have paved the way for the healthy life we enjoy today –that very life we so often take for granted.

I personally have encouraged everyone around me to get the anti-COVID-19 jab (it’s not yet my turn to gladly give my arm to the syringe). We cannot deny or sweep under the rug the uncertainties these vaccines might awake, even among the scientific-oriented minds. Truth is we do not yet know how long the vaccine’s immunity will last, as “months, perhaps years” is the most straightforward answer we get.

Yet despite my trust and support for science and its umpteen life-saving achievements, it is hard not to cringe every time someone discusses the so-called “vaccine passports.” Such initiative, I shall remind you, is not scientific: it’s political. Actually, it’s so constraining, so arrogant, so unethical that it can only be political.

The intention behind vaccine passports are good. But then again, Hitler thought the same as he killed more than six million human beings only in concentration camps. Had you asked Stalin, the bloody dictator would have argued that “it was for the good of the Soviet Union” that he had millions of people starve to death in Siberian gulags and Ukraine. “Good” is a rather tricky argument: since it’s hard to define (believe me, I’m a Philosophy enthusiast) it can easily be used as an excuse.

Now we’ve left utilitarianism behind (sorry, J.S. Mill, I wasn’t expecting to drag you into this), why should we allow vaccine passports to ever materialise? Why would we, as individuals first and as funcional members of a society later, consent to what is nothing but a titanic assault on our freedoms? Why would we do such a thing, especially when we have already given up so much? For bureaucracy’s sake? 

Do we really want to show a piece of paper (or a digital QR code, little it matters) whenever we feel like hitting the town’s winery? Is this how we concibe, perceive and protect our freedoms?

Some might argue that such an action is part of Rousseau’s social contract: we agree on a handful of worth-making efforts in order to live in whatever we consider a civilization to be. I call that BS. Rousseau was wrong way too often (even totalitarian-friendly Hobbes got a clearer picture of humanity).

As one of the world’s greatest intellectuals, Jared Diamond, points out in his 1997 Pulitzer winner book Guns, Germs & Steel, civilization wasn’t a rational creation; therefore, the contract Rousseau proposes is not, by any means, convincing. What Rousseau calls a “contract” is a combination of resignation and necessity.

More importantly, the moment we embrace vaccine passports and bid farewell to our very few freedoms remaining, we’ll be creating second-class citizens on the basis of ideology. Whoever refuses to vaccinate (or is, for different reasons, unable to) will be doomed to ostracism.

The saddest part of this all is that the governments who haven’t negotiated enough jabs for their entire populations, are the same to come up with this “brilliant” idea that does nothing but establish another gap to break society. As if we were in need of those!

Then there is the commercial argument. Are we really going to ask shopkeepers, restaurateurs, and bar owners to refuse clients (after a one-year lockdown) because they don’t have a piece of paper?

It is not my intention to minimize the dangers of this pandemic. Disease has killed more people than war, and although COVID-19 is not half as bad as the Black Death was, it has been the greatest challenge we have faced in the last decades. We must avoid contagion, we must wear masks, we must minimize social contact. We should vaccinate, vaccines are safe (yes, even AstraZeneca) and they’re the light at the end of the tunnel we have now.

This appears to be the direction the world is moving towards. I shouldn’t have written about some hypothetical, tyrannical threat on the horizon. Vaccine passports are practically among us, and with them, the long arms of authoritarianism rest on our shoulders, never to let us go again.

Pris Guinovart is a writer, editor and teacher. In 2014, she published her fiction book «The head of God» (Rumbo, Montevideo). She speaks six languages. Columnist since the age of 19, she has written for media in Latin America and the United States // Pris Guinovart es escritora, editora y docente. En 2014, publicó su libro de ficciones «La cabeza de Dios» (Rumbo, Montevideo). Habla seis idiomas. Columnista desde los 19 años, ha escrito para medios de America Latina y Estados Unidos