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WHO panel comes out against requiring vaccination proof for travel

A World Health Organization (WHO) panel last week came out against any requirements that travelers show proof of their COVID-19 vaccination in order to enter certain countries, highlighting its concern that such measures would aggravate inequities. 

WHO’s Emergency Committee released a statement on Monday detailing its members’ advice to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, including to avoid any mandate for people to prove they took the vaccine before traveling into countries.

The panel specifically cited concerns about inequity as the vaccine remains less available in certain areas and nations, especially countries that could not afford to collect a large stockpile of vaccine doses. Others, such as the U.S., invested heavily in vaccinations and built a supply that President BidenJoe BidenGraham: ‘I could not disagree more’ with Trump support of Afghanistan troop withdrawal Obama, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley team up to urge communities of color to get coronavirus vaccine Biden to hold second meeting with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure MORE reiterated last week is enough to vaccinate the American population. 

“Do not require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, given the limited (although growing) evidence about the performance of vaccines in reducing transmission and the persistent inequity in the global vaccine distribution,” the committee’s recommendation reads.

“States Parties are strongly encouraged to acknowledge the potential for requirements of proof of vaccination to deepen inequities and promote differential freedom of movement.”

The Emergency Committee also called attention to sailors who may be blocked from crossing international borders due to requirements to prove they got the vaccine.

“Special attention should be paid to seafarers who are stranded at sea and who are stopped from crossing international borders for crew change due to travel restrictions, including requirements for proof of COVID-19 vaccination, to ensure that their human rights are respected,” the recommendation reads. 

The panel’s advice aligns with what Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said earlier this month about the organization not supporting “vaccine passports” that serve as proof of vaccination.

“We already have a huge issue of vaccine equity in the world,” he said. “The imposition of requirements for certification of vaccination before travel could introduce another layer of such inequity. If you don’t have access to vaccine in a country, you become isolated as a country as vaccine passports kick in.”

The debate over vaccine passports has ramped up in recent weeks, with Republicans arguing that such mandates would impede on a person’s right to privacy and decision to get vaccinated. 

Several GOP governors, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisSunday shows preview: Russia, US exchange sanctions; tensions over policing rise; vaccination campaign continues American expats returning to US to get COVID-19 shots Oddsmakers say Harris, not Biden, most likely to win 2024 nomination, election MORE and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, have signed executive orders banning requiring vaccine passports, while other states, like Tennessee, are considering similar measures. 

But other states run by Democratic governors, such as New York and Hawaii, have said they are looking into a vaccine passport program. 

Biden’s White House has repeatedly said the federal government will not institute a mandatory vaccine passport, saying the decision would fall to private institutions on whether they wanted that restriction.

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