Ethics and Effectiveness of US COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates and Vaccination Passports: A Review

Alexa G. Canning, Kyleigh E. Watson, Katelyn E. McCreedy, John O. Olawepo

Abstract


Background: The highest-income countries procured 50 times as many COVID-19 vaccines as low-income countries, a global health inequity that resulted in only 4.6% of the poorest 5th of the world receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. High-income countries are considering vaccine mandates and passports to contain the spread of COVID-19. This study is a curated discourse aimed at examining how vaccine mandates and passports may impact global vaccine equity from an ethics perspective.

Study design: Narrative review adapted for a debate.

Methods: In November 2021, we conducted a review of studies examining global vaccine mandates for an upper-level global health course at Northeastern University, Boston, United States (U.S.). In total, 19 upper-level students, one research assistant, and one instructor participated in the data collection, analysis, and discussion.

Results: The review showed vaccine mandates are ethical and effective if autonomy-centered alternatives like soft mandates are first exhausted. Unwarranted stringent public health measures degrade public trust. In the U.S. alone, COVID-19-related deaths hovered above 300,000 before COVID-19 vaccination began in mid-December 2020. Since then, the number of COVID-19 deaths more than doubled, despite the wide availability of the vaccine. For many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) vaccines are not available or easily accessible. Global collaboration to facilitate vaccine availability in LMICs should be a priority.

Conclusions: It is essential to get as many people as possible vaccinated to return to some normality. However, vaccine mandates and passports need to be used only sparingly, especially when other options.

Keywords


COVID-19 vaccines; Global health; Travel-related illness; Vaccine mandates; Vaccination passports

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