India has firmly opposed the adoption of COVID-19 vaccine passports at the G7 meeting of health ministers on Friday, saying that such an initiative could prove to be "hugely discriminatory."
Several countries including the US and the UK have talked about vaccine passports for letting their citizens travel abroad or visitors from other countries to come in. The European Union has also been working to introduce a vaccine travel document for tourists. “Vaccine passports” are meant to allow citizens of a country to use proof of vaccination to travel once again.
However, developing countries, which have vaccinated only a very small percentage of the population due to a shortage of vaccines, are opposed to the idea. There is also the issue of western countries not recognising the vaccines of some other countries.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, addressing the virtual meeting of his counterparts from seven rich nations, raised concerns about the availability of vaccines and low rates of inoculation in developing nations. India was invited this year as a guest to the meeting.
"At this stage of the pandemic, it is pertinent to also discuss India's concern over the idea of a vaccine passport. Considering the fact of lower levels of vaccination in developing countries in contrast to the developed countries and still unaddressed issues related to equitable and affordable access, supply and distribution of safe and effective vaccines, India would propose that implementation of vaccine passports will be hugely discriminatory and disadvantageous to the developing countries," he said.
"India would suggest that the same should be implemented duly taking into consideration emerging evidence on the efficacy of vaccines and under the overarching coordination of WHO duly attending to the anomaly of access and affordability as it exists today," Dr Vardhan said.
The G7 health ministers meeting in Britain agreed on Friday to step up coordination against future pandemics and other threats, but made no new commitments to speed up vaccine deliveries to less developed countries.
Meeting in Oxford in southern England ahead of next week's G7 summit, the ministers agreed on a new charter to deliver international clinical trials of treatments and vaccines.
The agreement aims to make it easier and quicker to share results from vaccine and therapeutic trials to tackle COVID-19 and future health issues, the ministers said in a joint declaration.
But despite increasing calls for a fairer global distribution of vaccines to make more doses available to the poor countries where less than 1% of the population has been inoculated, the G7 health ministers meeting failed to achieve a major breakthrough. It merely reiterated previous commitments to share doses "as soon as possible".
Poorer countries, which do not have enough stocks for comprehensive inoculation programmes, have lagged in their jabs' drives as they wait for stocks.
G7 countries are already committed to supporting the Covax global vaccine sharing programme, but the World Health Organization and others have warned it is short of around 200 million doses in the short term.