Digital Vaccination Records: One’s Ticket Back To Pre-Covid ‘Normal’

The MVA’s universal pass has a section which asks if we would like to attach CoWIN to it, thereby verifying you have taken both your shots.

The world over, strict rules are being enforced along with making citizens carry Covid vaccine passports, clearly a thorn in the side of the anti-vaxxers. One would think freedom to travel and being allowed inside restaurants, malls and places would actually motivate sceptics and even anti-vaxxers to take their shots. There are still many people opposed to inoculation. However, the fact is, cities across the world are just going to make it tougher for them, making vaccine passports mandatory, or other measures like e-passes.

MVA Govt and BMC lead

As lockdown regulations began to ease recently, the Maharashtra government and the BrihanMumbai Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), have come up with different ways to help ease citizens in their travel, especially for those who are vaccinated. They have opened malls, local train travel, gyms, to all those who have taken both their vaccine shots. This decision, of course, came after pressure from citizens. The Bombay High Court reiterated that people need to be allowed to travel on local trains to earn their livelihoods. What had been happening was that even after having received both doses of vaccination, people dependent on public transport were still strapped, trains being strictly out of bounds for most. To revive the economy, people need to work and for that, they need to use local trains. The Bombay HC supported the demand for the fully vaccinated to use trains.



War and Peace
The Bombay HC supported the demand for the fully vaccinated to use trains.

Immediately after this decision, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray announced that those who were fully vaccinated could be issued railway passes for travel on trains. Soon, we saw the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government announce the Universal Travel Pass, an incentive for citizens to get fully vaccinated. Yes, we promptly had naysayers alleging there would be those who would provide fake vaccine certificates. That would not be one bit far-fetched, going by how things function in India. However, the fact is the MVA government and the BMC have been working on positive sentiment and it somehow seems to have appealed to the people. Along with these relaxations and policy decisions, Shiv Sena shakhas have been working overtime since the national lockdown last year, be it providing food packets, helping the disabled, old and house-bound people and from earlier this year, have taken on the big responsibility to ensure residents in their neighbourhoods are vaccinated. Obviously, with an eye on the BMC elections to be held next year, the other two alliance partners – Congress and Nationalist Congress Party are only seen in a few pockets, where some leaders who have been strong in their constituencies, have come up the ladder after having started off as corporators. The Bharatiya Janata Party is literally wiped out. The advantage for the Sena is, it has hold over the public hospitals, including those run by the BMC and with their party in the state government, even the other leading hospitals.

Politics apart, it is heartening to see vendors, labourers, taxiwaalas, domestic helps, cooks and even sex workers being enrolled for jabs by the shakhas. Smart move one could say, but also important, as these sections have been seen as urgently needing the vaccine. The incentive to use public transport is definitely working with most except anti-vaxxers, who will eventually have to fall in line. In fact, the incentive to allow people to travel has proved the clincher, as on August 17, the CM tweeted, “Maharashtra crosses the mark of administering 5 crore vaccination doses. #BreakTheChain”.


World introduces vaccine pass

Across the globe, proof of Covid-19 vaccination is required at various venues and airlines. To begin with, many airlines, including India’s Indigo, have signed up for the travel pass. Passengers too will eventually have to sign up for this IATA pass, but first, one has to check whether the airline one is travelling with is registered with the IATA Travel Pass. But this means more apps to store and more e-documents. One has to ensure that the vaccine apps downloaded are approved and can be used even outside India. Even the MVA’s universal pass has a section which asks if we would like to attach CoWIN to it, thereby verifying you have taken both your shots. On CoWIN, there is a section for one to attach one’s passport. While all this may seem like too many overlaps and complications, these are just easy solutions to quickly providing vaccine status and information, wherever you go. For Indians, there is double pressure, as Covaxin is yet to get approval from the World Health Organisation. Just like in India, before you enter every airport, you are forced to download the Aarogya Setu app. Now this is being made mandatory even at workplaces. All this has been a subject of much speculation, especially for those who oppose these measures since even those vaccinated must continue to strictly follow sanitisation protocol.

Now, this vaccine passport policy has not been endorsed by the US federal government, but a lot of private companies have made it mandatory. In France, tourists have to carry vaccine passports to access certain activities and services. In fact, last week, the French government brought a law to have a ‘Pass Sanitaire’ to eat out, travel and for cultural activities. When this policy was first announced, the French, who love their civil liberties and their right to protest, ensured their annoyance at the enforced measures was brought to the streets. However, it is reported, the vaccine passport is working. The reports show that the reasonable provisions have worked, especially regarding social responsibility. French television channels showed the preparations all restaurants, pubs, cafés and cultural institutions had to make, to ensure they had facilities to check the ‘Pass Sanitaire’ on smartphones. On their part, having faced strict restrictions and having been homebound, many French citizens are now following the law and more people are getting vaccinated.


Employees of the Eiffel Tower check clients’ health passes before they visit the attraction on July 21.| CREDIT: BERTRAND GUAY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Tough times for anti-vaxxers

The restrictions on those against these forced measures will only increase and there are many who support these measures. If a majority are getting vaccinated to protect themselves and others, the naysayers are losing support. In the US too, New York was the first city to introduce vaccine passports, restricting entry to cafés, restaurants, gyms and indoor places only to those with these epasses. Even the United Nations has begun action on its staffers. At their headquarters, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has, in a letter stated, they will be taking precautionary measures to provide a safe working environment, apart from making the wearing of masks compulsory. The UN will conform to the New York city’s guidelines and has insisted on proof of vaccination to use the several dining facilities. Guterras says, “In order to align UNHQ’s approach to indoor dining with that of NYC’s guidance, we will soon require proof of vaccination for seated meals at cafétarias and other dining facilities on premises”.

Elsewhere in the US, it is raining incentives for taking vaccines. Just last month, the US President Joe Biden said, towns and states could offer citizens $100 to get vaccinated. There is a larger plan to protect the US citizens against the virus. There are already plans afoot for vaccine booster shots. Already 100 million doses are ready, the Biden administration says. These will roll out by fall. Meanwhile, it will only get tougher for those who are not vaccinated. Already they are barred from travelling, entering many places and most of all, denied services. These, of course, vary from state to state and country to country. Already, leaders in San Francisco have approved the toughest restrictions in the US for unvaccinated people. Even if these people have a negative report for coronavirus, they will be denied these facilities, as the authorities want citizens to be fully vaccinated. In fact, the largest teachers’ union in the US has extended support for policies that make vaccination mandatory, or else they will have to submit to regular testing. The aim is to keep schools, colleges and institutions safe from the virus. The biggest problem, as we are already seeing, is that the virus can further mutate and re-emerge in highly transmissible forms and the only way to ensure the intensity of fresh outbreaks is minimised is by taking both the shots and to continue strictly observing sanitising protocols.

The driving point is, whether one must battle against forced vaccination or go back to enjoying some of the old life freedoms by being fully vaccinated.

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