Controversies about Vaccine Pass Effectiveness

정소연, 김혜선, 이소연, 이채현l승인2022.03.08l수정2022.03.08 16:38l392호 1면

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   At the moment, the whole world is suffering from lifestyle changes due to COVID-19. In Korea, social distancing policies are regularly changing, such as service industry closing times, the number of friends that can gather socially, and the renewal of vaccine passes and QR codes. The reason for the often rapid transition to new policies is that the number of COVID-19 cases has been rapidly increasing. However, the frequent rule changes are confusing and the quarantine guidelines and pass system operation have been muddied with the onslaught of new Omicron cases. To further hamper the matter, the vaccine pass system has been at the centre of debate in Korea. Those supporting the plan say it is good to protect the rights of the vulnerable, while those who disagree with the system argue it violates their right to choose to remain unvaccinated.

▲ Social Distancing 5-tiers System from Korea (Photo from Dynamic Busan News)​

   For the vaccinated, the system is acceptable, however for those refusing the jab, there are a number of concerns with this process. A national petition was launched to voice opposition to the pass. The arguments were based around four main points. First, even vaccinated people can be infected and point to the outbreak at the ‘Yeoncheon army base’ as an example, despite their vaccination status. Second, they argue a vaccine pass is a violation of fundamental rights. Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine has many side effects. Although it is rare, some people have died as a result of the vaccine and their families received no compensation or even recognition that the death was a direct result of the vaccine. Third, despite the vaccine being unreliable as a means of protection, governments are continuing to ask people to get vaccinated and even boosted to keep their antibodies high. Finally, anti-vaccine pass advocates say the cost of frequent testing is an unfair financial burden. For the unvaccinated, a recent PCR test result is necessary to use some public facilities. But with a short expiration date of the results, people have to spend a lot of money being re-tested frequently. As a result, opponents to the vaccine pass system argue, “The right to self-determination for the unvaccinated should be respected and should never be neglected.” In November 2021, the federal government launched a vaccine pass system but it did not fully come into effect until recently. After vaccination, people receive a vaccination certificate through the COOV app, public health center, or government24 site which was to be used as a pass to enter establishments proof of Covid protection. A vaccine pass is valid for 6 months after a person’s second vaccination. When it is due to expire, a third vaccination is necessary to maintain the validity of the pass. However, under this system, if you are unvaccinated, you have to show test results proving you are not infected. Identifying your status became necessary under this system when entering several public facilities including indoor gyms, Karaoke bars, restaurants and cafés, PC rooms, theaters, study cafés, private study academies and so on. The government implemented this rules because the rate of infection and the death rate was growing rapidly. The Korean Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Agency announced that 28% of infected people were unvaccinated, and urged them to get their jabs to qualify for vaccine pass. During a briefing hosted by the Central Disaster Relief Center it was revealed that 66.5% of deaths and 17.7% of infected patients at the time, were unvaccinated people.

▲ People are using vaccine passes in the cafe. (Photo from KoreaNet)

   The vaccine pass for educational facilities in particular, caused an uproar. A civic group representative said, “Vaccine passes for educational facilities makes it mandatory for teenagers to get vaccinated. This violates their freedom to choose what they want for their body and denies them the right to learn.” The groups applied for a suspension on the execution of this order to the Minister of Health and Welfare. The court agreed and lifted the vaccine pass requirement for some establishments including academies, study rooms, supermarkets, and department stores. The court emphasized the need to protect personal freedom such as the right to pursue happiness and learning. Moreover, the court asserted that the vaccine pass discriminates against the unvaccinated. The Justice Departments of two different divisions in the Seoul Metropolitan government disagreed with the decision to apply the vaccine pass ban to supermarkets with one of them saying they would appeal.

   Opinions on vaccine passes are also split between experts. A debate entitled “Vaccine Pass, Community Protection or Violation of Fundamental Rights?" was held on January 26 on JTBC’s YouTube channel ‘JTBC News’. Medical school professor Lee Jae-gap and Jung Jae-hun argued in favor of the vaccine pass, while medical school professor Cho Du-hyeong and lawyer Yun Yong-jin were opposed. The biggest issue at hand was whether vaccine pass benefits outweigh the concerns for protecting basic rights. Professor Cho said that “COVID-19 vaccines can cause big side effects such as death, so forcing it through vaccine passes not only infringes on fundamental rights but threatens the right to life.” In response, Professor Lee remarked that, “Even though vaccine passes restrict access to public facilities for some unvaccinated people, we still need them if we are considering the protection of the unvaccinated getting infected or the rapid spread of the virus.”

   There was a great bit of discussion around the idea that vaccine passes could protect the unvaccinated. Those who agreed stated that it is to encourage the unvaccinated to refrain from going to facilities with a high risk of infection to ensure they do not catch COVID-19. The opposition argued the policy only separates the population into two groups, leading the unvaccinated to get exposed to the virus more comprehensively. In the end, there was no conclusion to the debate, as those who are in favor expressed that while social discussions are needed on excessive infringement of fundamental rights, vaccine passes are necessary. The opposition concluded saying, “Based on the current fatality rate or risk, quarantine procedures, or strict regulations as we have seen before have become meaningless.” In recent interviews, three of the four attendees have maintained their positions about vaccine passes, while Professor Jung Jae-hun has softened his approach saying there should be adjustments to measures after we reach a peak in the number of cases.

   Whatever your position on the matter, it is undeniable that the government sparked this debate on vaccine passes due to a lack consistent and viable vaccine-related measures. Poor consultation with the nation has led a court judgment that directly contravenes the government's policy and leaves citizens to question its validity. With the recent increase in COVID-19 confirmed cases, some people doubt the validity of the vaccine pass system while others see the necessity of extending it. Some see the disease as deadly, while still others believe it is almost the same as cold illustrating an obvious difference in opinion between those supporting and those opposing a vaccine pass mandate. To bring the parties closer together, we need a workable solution that adapts our environment to the ever evolving changes of living with COVID-19.


정소연, 김혜선, 이소연, 이채현  dankookherald@gmail.com
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