Thursday, March 30, 2023

As vaccines roll out, businesses face a new dilemma

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Hello. David Meyer here in Berlin, replacing Alan.

As vaccination campaigns unfold at varying speeds, there is a big question mark over what could become – hopefully temporarily – a two-speed population.

In Israel, which is leading the world’s fastest COVID-19 inoculation campaign (although did not rule out the need for a new tight lock), the health ministry unveiled a “green passport” that will allow vaccinated people to do things like attend mass rallies and sporting events. It said passports are also likely to be used by hotels, shopping malls and restaurants.

On the other side of the world, in Los Angeles County, the vaccinated receive a digital recording, stored on their smartphones, which could end up being used for admission to concerts or flights.

Some airlines are very excited about the idea, as a way to get back to near-normality. Qantas said a month ago, passengers would need to be vaccinated first if they were to board this year – a step beyond the industry-wide push for a standardized way of showing that passengers have at least been tested before departure.

The debate on the preferential treatment of vaccinated people is a debate loaded with many factors ranging from behavior to ethics. Would the promise of benefits push skeptics into getting vaccinated, or would their refusal be seen as proof that the vaccination campaign is some sort of authoritarian conspiracy? What about people who cannot get vaccinated, for reasons ranging from their personal medical circumstances to the inability of governments to vaccinate people quickly enough?

For officials, these dilemmas turn to the territory of human rights – always a balancing act, so they will need to be cautious about the constitutional implications.

But what about businesses? Many will undoubtedly have to comb through the legal implications with a fine-tooth comb, but, especially in the absence of formal rules on the subject, their big problem will be deciding whether or not to continue to treat all their clients equally.

For example, once a significant proportion of the local population has been vaccinated against COVID-19, will retail chains face pressure to let vaccinated people enter their outlets without a mask? Will those who are resistant to vaccines then complain of being discriminated against? None of the currently available vaccines are licensed for use in children – does that mean movie theater operators may need to discriminate against young moviegoers?

In a way, it’s great to be able to ask these questions – let’s never forget how incredible it is that vaccines are already rolling out, barely a year after the start of the pandemic. But I certainly don’t know what the answers are and I’m fascinated to see how they materialize.

More news below.

David Meyer


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