Use European systems as examples in considering proof of vaccination

As the battle against the novel coronavirus drags on, can a vaccination certificate be the ticket to a return to normal economic and social life while efforts continue to contain the spread of infections? It is necessary to pay close attention to early examples being used in European countries.

Earlier this month, France expanded the use of certificates of proof of full vaccination. The certificate is now required for entering a hospital or facility for the elderly, boarding an airplane or long-distance train, entering a dining establishment, and attending events. Violators are subject to fines.

Called “pass sanitaire,” France’s health pass can also display the result of a PCR test. Unvaccinated people can reportedly gain access to facilities by showing proof of a recent negative test.

French President Emmanuel Macron, in a televised address to the nation in July, called for public understanding for the system, saying that vaccinating the entire population was “the only way of returning to a normal way of life.”

France and other European countries have repeatedly imposed lockdowns in which people were banned from going out under the threat of fines, but these dealt serious blows to their economies and to social life. Despite such powerful measures, the pandemic could not be contained.

The health pass system was introduced as a means to accelerate the vaccination rate as a measure against spreading infections from the highly contagious delta variant. Macron seemed to come to the conclusion that it was inevitable that unvaccinated people had to face certain restrictions.

Following the president’s speech, France saw a surge in appointments to get vaccinated, particularly among younger age groups, and the vaccination rate for the whole country has reached about 60%. There are some who protest the health pass system as forcing people to get vaccinated, but a survey showed that the majority of French support it.

Germany has also decided to make it mandatory for people in areas where infections are surging to show a vaccination pass or a negative test result to eat in restaurants or take part in indoor events. Britain is also encouraging restaurant owners, event organizers and other businesses to check their customers for such proof.

For its part, Japan cannot just take these European systems and introduce them as is. Requiring people to show a vaccine certificate would likely invite criticism that it could lead to exclusion of the unvaccinated. It is also necessary to consider those who want to get vaccinated but cannot because of underlying health reasons and other concerns.

On the other hand, a vaccine pass system is certainly effective in raising the vaccination rate and curbing the spread of infections, without restricting the lives of the people through a lockdown. It would be worth considering a system that gives discounts and other preferential treatment to those who present proof of vaccination.

The government should help deepen understanding among the public that vaccines reduce the severity of the illness for those infected and lessen the burden on the health care system.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 29, 2021.