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Israel rolls out "vaccine passport" system

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Israel is implementing a program requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before accessing facilities like gyms. CBS News correspondent Roxana Saberi joins "CBSN AM" to talk about these so-called "vaccine passports."

Video Transcript

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Well, as immunization efforts ramp up around the world. Some countries are considering implementing systems, which would require people to show proof of inoculation before accessing certain facilities, a so-called Vaccine Passport Program. It's already in place in Israel. Roxana Saberi is reporting on this from London. So, Roxana, I imagine that a program like this has some pros and some cons.

ROXANA SABERI: It does Anne-Marie. Supporters say it could help lift lockdowns in cities like London. You get a shot, then you get a digital pass on your phone, and then you can get into restaurants and pubs. But critics warn of the potential pitfalls over privacy and more. Israelis must now scan in to get it in to gyms, hotels, even concerts like this.

- It is all set in the telephone. It's very convenient.

ROXANA SABERI: For more than three million Israelis and counting, this is the ticket back to some kind of normalcy.

- Finally, all the way in the car I sang (SINGING) back to life. Back to reality.

ROXANA SABERI: The government-issued green pass shows personal details and proves they've had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Now countries across Europe and beyond are considering similar so-called vaccine passports or immunity certificates to inject life back into a flagging tourism industry and revive businesses and hospitality like pubs. The UK is studying whether to introduce vaccine certificates, raising the possibility that Brits could soon need a passport for a pint.

- Yeah, all good.

BORIS JOHNSON: We haven't had stuff like this before. We've never thought in terms of having something that you have to show to go to a pub or a theater. And it's a-- there are deep and complex issues that we need to explore.

ROXANA SABERI: Issues like potential discrimination against people who don't want a shot along with those who can't get one for medical reasons or because there's not enough supply.

CLARE WENHAM: So these people won't be able to participate in life, in public life, in social life, in economic life in the same way as their counterparts who have been vaccinated.

ROXANA SABERI: Clare Wenham from the London School of Economics says data privacy is another concern.

CLARE WENHAM: Is it going to be something that's digital that tracks you? And that obviously opens a whole different range of conversations about security of your data for example.

ROXANA SABERI: So governments shouldn't rush it.

CLARE WENHAM: Governments shouldn't rush it. I think it's a Pandora's box, and I think it's a slippery slope into having life being governed by your health status.

ROXANA SABERI: But as governments debate immunity certificates, businesses are pushing ahead. Some cruises and airlines, for instance, say they'll require proof of inoculation to board. So while these passes are raising tricky ethical questions, you may need one to travel as early as this year. The WHO tells CBS News that it opposes requiring vaccines for travel as long as the global supply is limited and their ability to stop the spread of the virus is not yet clear. Anne-Marie.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Yeah, you can totally understand. I know people really want to get back to moving around the way they did before, but you certainly don't want to create an environment where people are willing to sort of do all kinds of things, maybe pay extra, to get access to this vaccine when there are people who are in desperate need right now. You mentioned this thing about the WHO not recommending vaccine passports. What else are you hearing?

ROXANA SABERI: Yeah, that's right, Anne-Marie. There are a lot of concerns that some critics have. For example, there is no international standardized digital vaccine passport yet, and in the meantime, there is this patchwork of different apps that countries and companies are creating. Now the airline industry has called for something universal so that it can be recognized by different countries.

Another concern is that these vaccine passports, since they're digital, could be faked, and you actually have seen that with some of these negative coronavirus tests that are required to enter certain countries. Some people have been able to fake those for example. Another concern we've heard is that the virus keeps mutating and so vaccines need to be adapted for these new variants that are-- of COVID-19 that are popping up around the world. And in the meantime, countries might say, for example, you need to show proof that you've had the Pfizer vaccine, for instance, and not the AstraZeneca one to get in, or you need Moderna and not Johnson&Johnson. So that is a concern that some critics have that could lead to more discrimination. Anne-Marie.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Of course. Is anyone else considering this whole concept of a vaccine passport? Do you know if there's anything happening here in the US, or is anyone considering it here? Is it a possibility?

ROXANA SABERI: They are. President Biden issued an executive order, which, among other things, asked his government agencies to look into the possibility of linking vaccinations in the US with international vaccine certificates and creating electronic versions of them. At the same time, here in Europe, the European Union is looking at creating its vaccine passports for people to travel more easily between countries within the block. Denmark and Sweden have announced that they're going to introduce their own vaccine passports, and Greece and Israel have announced they'll let people who have been vaccinated travel more easily between the two countries.

And at the same time, you've got these tech companies that are developing their own vaccine passport apps for different businesses and industries. So, again, you have this danger, according to critics, that you're going to have this patchwork of different vaccine apps that are only recognized by certain countries and certain companies. But, Anne-Marie, one thing that all of this has shown us while we were researching this story is that countries and companies are really improvising and trying to experiment with the best way to get back to normal as more and more people get vaccinations, but the question is, how do they do that fairly and also in a safe way? Anne-Marie.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Yeah, it's so true, Roxana, and fairly really being the question. If the vaccine is optional-- and there's still a lot of people very concerned about many of these vaccines. If it's optional but the only way to get on with your life is to get a vaccine, that doesn't feel so optional after a while. This is going to be really interesting to watch. Roxana, thank you so much.