A vaccination certificates for freedom?
China has one. Japan gets one. The European Union is proposing a green one. America probably won't have one, but many of its businesses and firms will and the UK government is rumored to be planning one too. One week, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi says they would not happen. The next week, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said they were "being considered". At the time of this writing, it could well be government policy!
We are, of course, talking about the "vaccination pass" – a document or app that shows that you have been vaccinated against Covid and that would allow you to travel again or attend mass events.
What are the topics here and is there anything in particular that the Church should be concerned about?
There are strong arguments in favor of vaccination certificates. First, they could give us back our freedoms – the freedom to travel, meet, work, and enjoy a more normal life. Second, they could encourage more people to get vaccinated. And they will enable governments to better fight the spread of Covid-19.
At first glance, and without much thought, I couldn't see where there was going to be a problem. Those who objected seemed a little like the Christians who see the mark of the beast on every bar code! But then I got over my prejudices, went beyond the soundbites and simple slogans and realized that it all sounds good, but there is also a disadvantage. Consider.
What would these passports prove? So far we cannot guarantee that the vaccine will prevent the spread of Covid. Even at the highest effectiveness of 95%, that still means 5,000 out of 100,000 people could become infected. The point is that the vaccines are supposed to protect against the severity of Covid; They don't guarantee you won't be able to spread it.
What would be the point of a pass? My UK passport guarantees that I am a UK citizen. A Covid vaccination certificate does not guarantee that I or others do not have Covid.
What about variants? Do vaccination records guarantee against the increasing number of variants? The passport can only show that the person has been vaccinated – not that they do not have the virus or cannot pass it on.
But the problems are getting worse. A passport is a document that grants you certain privileges – usually the privilege to travel. The problem with the proposed vaccine passports is that they are likely to be used not only for international travel but also for access to work, entertainment, shopping and even church places. This is a form of discrimination that affects those who have not yet been vaccinated – whether by choice or because they cannot. It is likely that those who are already disadvantaged will be disadvantaged even more.
Other concerns concern fraud and privacy. There is a danger that governments and others will use this “passport” to collect data on all of us. While it appears that there are many in our culture willing to trade privacy for convenience and "security," there are many of us who are unwilling to make that trade.
There is also the question of precedent. Insisting on a health pass to access certain services is a form of coercion. If we do not get the passport, we will be excluded from certain aspects of public life. This could easily be the thin end of a very thick wedge breaking the back of the already fragile liberal democracies of Western countries. Of course, the Chinese Communist Party loves the idea. You already operate a social credit system. There is every potential for this to be the same.
Once you give governments (or corporations) those powers, they hesitate to give them back. They will tell us "it's for health and safety" but at what price? If we have a passport for Covid-19, why not one for other conditions too? For example, around two thirds of adults in the UK are overweight (over 20% are obese). Being overweight means you are more likely to be seriously affected by Covid. And obesity costs the NHS over £ 27 billion a year. Why not have a passport that says we are not obese? It's a ridiculous example – but if you had suggested a few years ago that Boris Johnson would even consider taking such a move, you would have been labeled a conspiracy theorist! There are many actions governments can take in the interests of “health and safety”.
There are also potentially dire consequences for the church, which is why over 1,000 church leaders (mostly Protestant) have written to the government to express their concerns. You rightly insisted that you never need vaccination certificates from people who want to come to church.
As they argue, "The message we preach is given by God for all human beings and consists of nothing more than the free gift of grace offered in Christ Jesus with the universal call to repentance and belief in him. To deny people access to hear this. " Receiving a life-giving message and receiving this life-giving ministry would be a fundamental betrayal of Christ and the gospel. Sincere Christian churches and organizations could not do this, and as Christian leaders we would be forced to vigorously oppose such a law of parliament. ""
My main concern here is that vaccination certificates will not be the path to freedom, but the path to a society ruled by technocrats rather than democrats. Governments will say they are doing it for our best. But is it a price to give up our freedom and democracy just so that we can become nannies of the state?
David Robertson is the director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com