There are already significant flaws in the government’s plan to roll out ‘vaccine passports’ – flaws that could amount to human rights risks, a global body warns.
Amnesty International has flagged passports would enable discrimination against those who won’t be able to access a COVID jab for months, under supply issues.
The global human rights organisation says it’s further worried about increased marginalisation of Australians who may not be able to get a vaccine due to medical reasons.
“Vulnerable people in particular may be left behind. There doesn’t seem to be any consideration of those people in talks about the vaccine passport yet,” Amnesty International Australia campaigner Joel MacKay told The New Daily.
Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds unveiled the federal government’s ‘vaccine certificate’ on Wednesday.
Available through either the Medicare smartphone app, online at MyGov or in a hard copy paper form, it certifies that a person has had both shots of an approved vaccine.
“The COVID-19 digital certificate makes proof of vaccination accessible any time, anywhere,” Senator Reynolds said.
The ‘vaccine certificate’ is distinct from a ‘vaccine passport’, which several members of the Coalition – including George Christensen, Matt Canavan and former Liberal MP Craig Kelly – railed against in recent months.
‘Vaccine passports’, showing proof of vaccination, have been raised by many, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, as a way for inoculated people to avoid being subject to lockdowns or travel restrictions.
Politicians and health experts have been talking up the idea that, once vaccinated, people may be able to slowly return to pre-COVID life, with few or zero rules on travel or social activities.
However, the federal government has been hesitant to cite a specific list of locations or privileges that such a ‘passport’ would give access to, and Mr Morrison seemed to shelve plans for such a specific reform after state premiers including Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk ridiculed the idea recently.
Mr Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt had previously suggested that vaccinated people may be able to fly on planes earlier and easier than non-vaccinated people, and skip some state-based virus restrictions.
Around the world, many other countries are experimenting with similar ideas. In the United States for instance, where mask rules are still in force in many states, movie theatres are permitting fully vaccinated people to remove their face coverings.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid told ABC Radio on Wednesday it was critical for people to be able to show their vaccination status.
“It’s going to be needed for international travel. It may well be needed in many workplaces,” he said.
But Amnesty has warned such moves could divide Australia into “classes” of vaccinated and non-vaccinated.
Mr MacKay claimed it could be a form of “vaccine apartheid”, and create human rights concerns if some were denied access to essential services.
The vaccine certificate is not a ‘vaccine passport’, and no such list of freedoms or restrictions has been circulated by the government, but Mr MacKay said Amnesty was wary this was the first step in the path to a passport.
“We’re concerned about the right to movement, particularly for border communities, where we’ve seen restrictions really affect people,” he said.
“That then affects other human rights like employment, education or access to culture.”
Mr MacKay said those who couldn’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, or who weren’t yet eligible for a shot under the government’s rollout roadmap, shouldn’t have fewer freedoms.
“We’re worried it will be rolled out to public places, universities, the potential list would be endless,” he said.
“People may be locked out of various parts of life if they don’t have a passport.”
Mr MacKay said Amnesty was particularly concerned that, while the vaccine certificate was being offered by the federal government, that the use of its data would be largely left up to individual state and territory governments.
That risked a situation where people in one state had more restrictions or fewer freedoms than those in other states, he claimed, citing how different state leaders had enacted very different COVID control or lockdown rules.
Amnesty is calling on the federal government to enact a “uniform national policy” on what freedoms or restrictions would apply to vaccinated or non-vaccinated people, once the rollout progresses further.
Mr MacKay said Amnesty was also concerned that, due to the initially sluggish pace of the rollout and constrained supplies, younger people may be stuck waiting for months before they can access any freedoms afforded under the vaccine passport plan.
All Australians aged 50 and up are able to get a vaccine, along with high-risk cohorts like aged-care residents and quarantine workers.
But supply issues are still a concern in the vaccine rollout, with most Australians under 40 not yet extended the option to get a jab.
Some states are moving faster than others, however.
Most states are opening up vaccinations to anyone over 40, while Western Australia is now offering COVID jabs to anyone over 30.