Vaccine passport: WHO is reluctant but there’s hope China can be a pathfinder
Nation's efforts to promote health code recognition don’t conflict with WHO stance: expert
Published: Apr 07, 2021 09:35 PM
Passengers scan health code at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport after landing in October. Photo: cnsphoto

Passengers scan health code at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport after landing in October. Photo: cnsphoto

China and its partners that are promoting regional health code recognition can be pathfinders for a global vaccine passport program in the future, Chinese experts said, adding that although WHO had reservations over vaccine passports, China's efforts do not conflict with WHO's stance. 

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that China and South Korea will coordinate and establish a mechanism for the mutual recognition of their health codes, in a move that would help further normalize bilateral business and tourism activities.

On the same day, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a press conference that "We as the WHO are saying at this stage we would not like to see the vaccination passport as a requirement for entry or exit, because we are not certain at this stage that the vaccine prevents transmission." 

Harris also mentioned other reasons that the organization decided not to back the vaccine passport, like possible discrimination against people who are not able to get a vaccine.

Feng Duojia, president of the China Vaccine Industry Association, told the Global Times on Wednesday that the WHO's current stance doesn't imply that a vaccine passport itself is wrong.

As an international health organization, the WHO shoulders the responsibility of ensuring the safety of populations, Feng said.

Despite the WHO's reluctance, China has steadily rolled out mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccinations and individuals' health codes on a small-scale, bilateral basis.

Chinese observers widely saw China's establishment of mutual recognition of health codes and vaccinations as a rehearsal for trial runs of vaccine passports. 

Besides South Korea, China and Southeast Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are also eyeing mutual recognition of health codes and upgrading "fast tracks" to promote the resumption of people-to-people exchanges, work and production.

Malaysia and China agreed to mutually recognize digital vaccine certificates or COVID-19 health certificates during recent meetings between Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein in East China's Fujian Province.

Israeli Ambassador Irit Ben-Abba Vitale also said in an interview with Chinese media that Israel wants to establish mutual recognition of vaccines with China. 

Vaccination passports ultimately mean the mutual recognition of vaccines and their effectiveness, and to reach such mutual recognition would require lengthy negotiations. When those problems have yet to be dealt with, it is understandable that the WHO doesn't back the concept of vaccine passports for now, said Shen Yi, a professor at the School of International Relations and Public Affairs of Fudan University. 

Shen said that China's program of mutual health code or vaccination recognition doesn't conflict with the WHO's stance on vaccine passports.

China will continue to speed up the mutual recognition of vaccinations, which in the beginning could be the mutual recognition of health codes, and data sharing next, eventually reaching the target of creating international vaccine passports, Shen said.

 "It's like a roadmap. It is a step-by-step issue. When the questions above are all answered and the time is mature, China could take the lead to help the WHO by sharing its experience and providing technical support to the organization. Just as the European Commission helped coordinate COVAX, China could lend support to the WHO in this regard," Shen told the Global Times.

The WHO can draft the rules, procedures and data format. China is willing to provide support in sharing experience and techniques in setting up such a platform, as the country has rich experience in this area and has realized data sharing among the health code platforms of different Chinese provinces and regions, experts noted.

Simon Yoke Hua-teo, the executive president of a bird's nest company based in the China-Malaysia Qinzhou Industrial Park in Qinzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, told the Global Times on Wednesday that many cross-border enterprises like his support the idea of establishing mutual vaccination recognition to facilitate business and personnel exchanges. 

"Mutual vaccination recognition will bring real benefits for international businesses and possibly avoid weeks of quarantine if the epidemic situation improves."