In a document aimed at governments across Europe, Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić highlights the relevant human rights standards for addressing the issue of “vaccine passports”. The Information Document was sent to all 47 Council of Europe member on 31 March.
The document underlines the importance of stepping up efforts to produce and administer vaccines in an equal manner, in line with the requirements of the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (Oviedo Convention), so that restrictions on individual freedoms can gradually be reviewed as broader immunity is achieved among populations.
It also stresses that in the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, notably in the context of travelling, it is certainly worthwhile taking any steps to harmonise or facilitate the process of certifying that someone is vaccinated, immune or infection-free – provided that personal data are protected and measures to prevent counterfeiting are taken. Member states are invited to take action in line with the Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data, the Convention on the counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes involving threats to public health (MEDICRIME Convention) and the Convention on cybercrime (Budapest Convention).
On the other hand, using such certification or immunisation data for non-medical purposes to grant privileged and exclusive access to rights raises many questions related to respect for human rights and should be considered with caution.
The document focuses on four themes:
- Basis for the obligation of States to provide access to immunisation;
- Vaccination certificates or “vaccine passports” and their use;
- Privacy and data protection
- Security and public health risks.
These issues are central to the work carried out by the Committee on Bioethics and the Consultative Committee of the Convention on Data Protection. The Council of Europe provides member States with tools and expertise to ensure the crisis does not undermine our common values and principles, which is the very aim of the co-operation project on safeguarding human rights in healthcare during health crises.