Here’s a new term that we’ll need to get used to: vaccine passport. A number of countries such as Israel, Greece, Italy and Spain have begun taking steps to roll them out. While the passports serve as proof that the holder has completed full immunization against COVID-19, the World Economic Forum defines it as an “e-vaccination certification of compliance for border crossing regulations.”
This means that aside from a valid visa, travelers may soon need to show a vaccine passport to be allowed entry into other countries. But the Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization Committee (WHO) is urging countries to refrain from imposing the measure. WHO points out that the impact of vaccines on reducing transmission is yet to be known, and that vaccine availability is too limited.
Nevertheless, Senators Grace Poe and Pia Cayetano are among those who have filed bills seeking to provide Filipinos with vaccine passports. Here’s the lowdown on the bills if you want to prep for the changes each might bring should they get enacted.
Senate Bill No. 1994
On Jan. 19, Sen. Grace Poe filed the Vaccine Passport Act (Senate Bill No. 1994) which seeks to authorize the health secretary to issue this immunization record. Poe calls her version of the measure “future-proofed” because it will “allow the health secretary to issue the passports for other emerging or re-emerging infectious diseases in the future” and “prohibits the collection of fees for the issuance, amendment, and/or replacement of a vaccine passport.”
The bill also lays down penalties for those who will tamper with or falsify vaccine passports. Any person who “distributes falsified, forged, and/or counterfeit vaccine passports” as well as “uses [or] attempts to use, a vaccine passport issued for another holder” will be fined up to P90,000 and imprisoned for up to 10 years. On the other hand, those who “deface, mutilate, alter or destroy a vaccine passport” will be charged a fine of up to P60,000 and spend up to 10 years in jail.
Poe notes in the bill’s explanatory note: “The idea of vaccine passports, alongside the rapid rollout of Covid-19 vaccination, has recently gained traction in international circles. Countries such as Denmark, Greece and Israel have all started to take steps in this direction.”
Senate Bill No. 1999
In a press release published today, the Senate stated that Sen. Pia Cayetano’s version called the Vaccine Passport Program Act (Senate Bill No. 1999) was filed on Jan. 20, and seeks to provide all Filipinos with a vaccine passport. Cayetano says that the vaccine passports, primarily digital but also available through printed copies, “would allow the government to monitor the distribution of vaccines, their effects on people, the overall effectiveness of the immunization program, and gather data for post-market surveillance.”
Also detailed in the press release is the information to be included in each vaccine passport, which are as follows: a) Manufacturer, brand name, and batch number or other identifiers of the COVID-19 vaccine; b) Date of vaccination; c) Name of the hospital, health center, or health facility where the vaccine was received; and d) Name, signature and license number of the duly licensed physician, nurse or other health worker administering the vaccine.
The bill also recommends that “individuals vaccinated against COVID-19, as indicated in their Vaccine Passports, may be granted certain benefits or exemptions, subject to guidelines issued by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).” The proposed benefits listed are “international travel, as may be allowed in foreign jurisdictions; non-essential domestic travel; local checkpoint and quarantine exemptions; and access to business establishments allowed to operate during the New Normal.”
Here’s to hoping that the immunization program gets rolled out efficiently because these exemptions might spell trouble.