Sustainable Living - UNESCOs Ethics Commissions Call to Address Ethical Issues of COVID-19 Certificates

Sustainable Living

UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) and the International Bioethics Committee (IBC) call policy makers to address ethical issues involved in COVID-19 Certificates and Vaccine Passports. It is crucial that COVID-19 Certificates and Vaccine Passports are not designed, implemented nor used as a privilege and should not infringe freedom of choice, but rather as a way to create an epidemiologically safer environment for everyone. 

First of all, UNESCO’s experts stress that the introduction of COVID-19 Certificates and Vaccine Passports should avoid discrimination and societal divides, leave no one behind, and be embedded in a system of international solidarity.

While the introduction of vaccination passports and COVID-19 certificates is an important step to restore civil liberties, it should not introduce new forms of exclusion and discrimination. It is crucial that COVID-19 certificates are not designed, implemented nor used as a privilege for those who have access to vaccines, tests, and digital technologies.

It has been proven that COVID‑19 global crisis has been hitting the hardest those in poverty, vulnerable situations, disadvantaged and marginalized groups. Furthermore, this pandemic increases divides and inequities in economic, social and individual spheres of life within societies and between countries.

"The introduction of COVID-19 certificates should not lead to unjust travel limitations for those who did not have access to vaccines or who received a vaccine that is not accepted in the countries they wish to travel to. Measures should be taken to avoid that vaccination-based certificates would reduce the freedom of movement of people in and out of Low and Middle-Income Countries due to the inequitable availability of vaccines, which could have severe implications for development in these countries, else, it accounts only for the mobility of the privileged ones, and not at the international level." 

--Gabriela Ramos, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO for Social and Human Sciences.

"Moreover, countries should not rely only on vaccine passports but use other means that are accessible to all, such as COVID tests or immunity, in order to avoid opening another layer of discrimination against those who have no access to vaccines. Vaccines passports raise many questions regarding human right and fundamental freedoms. People have the right to refuse vaccination, for instance for reasons of personal, moral and religious beliefs, age restrictions, medical circumstances, or worries about the reliability and safety of vaccines. Yet, even though vaccination should never be enforced, it is highly encouraged for those who are by nature of their profession involved in necessary direct contact with other persons.” 

--Professor Peter-Paul Verbeek, Chairperson of COMEST

"It is important to keep in mind that vaccination is for personal and for third parties protection and are part of the wide range of sanitary measures that are still needed to be followed, particularly as new variants appear. People who can not or decide not be vaccinated, should not be discriminated against, rather ensure they commit to be protected and protecting the others by other means available. We should not lower the standards for scientific evidence even in times of crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the registration of any vaccine to prevent COVID-19 must comply with internationally accepted regulatory standards without the influence of elements of politicization or discrimination against the company or country that produced and originally registered them." 

---Professor Hervé Chneiweiss, Chairperson of the International Bioethics Committee

The certificates should account for scientific uncertainty regarding the degree and duration of protection and vaccines passports should be safe and secure and respect people’s privacy.

Any vaccine that complies with the internationally accepted regulatory standards, with their respective level of protection are useful and pertinent.

Lastly, the statement also appeals the societal introduction of COVID-19 Certificates should not work against sustainable development. The relevant policies need to be elaborated which will comprise at least the following:  global effort needed to reduce emissions when national and international travel will increase: and Member States need to shape the conditions for sustainable ecosystems and make sustainability a central priority in policymaking,  in order to reduce the risk of new instances of zoonosis that can cause new pandemics.

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