The Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine and Africa’s Passport Pandemic

The Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine and Africa’s Passport Pandemic

I write to join other Nigerians to ask the Federal Ministry of Health in Nigeria to stop saying that the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is safe. To my understanding, no one has conducted any test on that jab in Nigeria even though we assume that it is safe. The best we can do is to say that we are evaluating it considering the concerns of many countries.

As I write, more than 12 European countries have suspended the administration of this vaccine. The implication is this: there is a problem (blood clot) and that problem has to be understood and fixed. While the European Medicines Agency continues to support the vaccine, everyone is taking a cautious move going forward. Both the EMA and WHO plan to publish some research findings later in the week. If everything is fine, great. But while we wait, there is a need for caution.

As that happens, the biggest issue is on the horizon: vaccine passport for travel. That could be the real pandemic in Africa since we do not have the vaccines in abundance. Nigeria, at a population of more than 200 million likely will not vaccinate up to 20 million by June 2021. The implication is that the nation may be frozen on global travel for months if the vaccine passport takes off.

Yes, the idea that one would need a passport, before air travel, that is linked, and  which authenticates that the owner has taken a Covid-19 vaccine should be a concern.  If that happens, most parts of Africa will be under paralysis. We were not unduly distorted by the biological aspect of Covid-19, but could bear the economic brunt since the usual discrimination will evolve – was that passport valid, could it be trusted and which country issued? You name the reasons. The African Union needs to get ahead of this and make sure its member states are protected.

A growing number of airlines, organizations and governments are preparing for an expected summer travel surge by trying out COVID-19 travel credentials — digital “vaccination passports,” travel certificates and similar “travel wallet” tools — to help passengers navigate potentially-differing international requirements. British Airways and Ryanair are now offering to store passengers’ vaccination information to make their travel experience more efficient. In addition, “vaccine passport” apps by trusted-traveler program Clear and organizations such as Commons Project and the International Air Transport Association, are being tested in different parts of the world.

IBM has a product – Digital Health Pass – ready for customization for countries: the product is “ designed to provide organizations with a smart way to bring people back to a physical location, such as a workplace, school, stadium or airline flight. Built on IBM Blockchain technology, the solution is designed to enable organizations to verify health credentials for employees, customers and visitors entering their site based on criteria specified by the organization. Privacy is central to the solution, and the digital wallet can allow individuals to maintain control of their personal health information and share it in a way that is secured, verifiable, and trusted.  Individuals can share their health pass to return to the activities and things they love, without requiring exposure of the underlying personal data used to generate the credential.”

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