The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Commission have recently announced a significant partnership aimed at establishing a global digital vaccine passport. This partnership, known as the WHO Global Digital Health Certification Network (GDHCN), will adopt the European Union’s (EU) system of digital COVID-19 certification to facilitate global mobility and protect individuals from ongoing and future health threats.
The WHO and European Commission have emphasized that the GDHCN will focus on developing various digital products to enhance healthcare services for everyone. They have also assured that personal data collection will remain the responsibility of governments and that the WHO will not collect individuals’ personal information through these digital passports.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commended the partnership and highlighted its core principles of equity, innovation, transparency, and data protection. The goal is to offer all WHO member states access to an open-source digital health tool that can enable efficient and effective delivery of quality health services worldwide.
However, some experts have raised concerns about the implications of such a system on individual liberties and freedom of movement. They argue that a digital passport system could lead to restrictions on the unvaccinated and mandatory vaccinations as a prerequisite for participation in various aspects of life.
The WHO-European Commission collaboration was announced shortly after the World Health Assembly (WHA), the annual meeting of the WHO. Although the pandemic treaty and International Health Regulations (IHR) amendments were not finalized at the WHA, high-level WHO officials highlighted the importance of preparing for future pandemics and the potential spread of a new disease, often referred to as “Disease X.” They also emphasized the need to consider restricting personal liberties during future health emergencies.
The EU has been a strong advocate for digital vaccine passports, with its own system, the “Green Pass,” being implemented for member states in late 2020. The EU’s experience with digital passes is acknowledged in the WHO-European Commission announcement, which states that the EU’s solution became widely used worldwide and allowed for the connection of non-EU countries issuing similar certificates.
Negotiations for the IHR amendments have involved proposals from the Czech Republic and the EU, suggesting the implementation of a global digital health certificate and the inclusion of test certificates and recovery certificates. The WHO recognizes the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) as a stakeholder in these discussions.
The WHO has been working on the GDHCN framework since August 2021, focusing on digital documentation of COVID-19 certificates and interoperability of immunization and health records globally. The organization has also conducted a technical feasibility study to establish a federated global trust network.
The EU’s efforts to launch the “Green Pass” have been accompanied by assurances regarding privacy protection. However, critics argue that the introduction of pandemic passports and discussions about mandatory vaccinations pose significant threats to personal freedoms.
The EU’s ambition to create a digital identity for all Europeans aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Target 16.9, which aims to provide a digital legal identity for everyone by 2030.
Critics, such as Michael Rectenwald, have strongly condemned pandemic passports, considering them a “death sentence for millions” and a step towards constructing a global totalitarian system. They argue against vaccine mandates and emphasize the need to halt the WHO’s actions in this direction.