WHO outlined its plans for global vaccine passports in a series of proposed amendments to the International Health Regulations (2005) — a legally binding instrument that imposes different conditions on 196 countries when WHO declares certain types of health emergencies.
As governments around the world wind down their vaccine passport programs, the unelected World Health Organization (WHO) is trying to make this Covid-era surveillance technology permanent and global.
The movement to change these international health regulations (IHR) began last January when the Biden administration insisted on major changes. Since this initial push, other member states have proposed their own amendments and the total number of proposed amendments now stands at 307.
These proposed amendments give WHO new powers to declare “potential” health emergencies and include obligations for member states to recognize WHO as a “coordinating body” during certain types of health emergencies.
They also say the WHO intends to use its new powers to push for global vaccine passports when it declares “potential or actual” health emergencies.
The current version of the IHR already allows the WHO to issue recommendations to “review evidence of vaccination”, “vaccination requirements” and “implement contact tracing of suspected or infected persons”.
However, these proposed amendments to the IHR greatly expand existing recommendations and set the framework for digital vaccine passports and other forms of digital tracking.
New text has been added to allow Member States to require “documents containing data for laboratory testing in digital or physical form” and “information on vaccination against diseases”.
The second amendment says that “documents containing information on the destination of travelers … should preferably be produced in digital form, with paper as the remaining option” and suggests that this will be used for contact tracing.
One amendment paves the way for “other types of evidence and certification” that “may be devised by the Health Assembly” (WHO’s decision-making body) and which will be used to “confirm the owner’s status as a person at reduced risk of being a carrier of the disease.” This other evidence includes test certificates (which provide proof that someone has been tested for the disease) and recovery certificates (which provide proof that someone has recovered from the disease).
Not only do these proposed amendments to the IHR encourage post-vaccination passports, digital proofs and digital certificates, but they also state that “vaccination certificates should be considered approved” when WHO declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). .. and there is a “scenario of voluntary vaccination using products that are still in the research phase or have very limited availability”.
In addition, they mandate that digital health documents “include a means of verifying their authenticity by downloading from an official website, such as a QR code.”
And it doesn’t end there. These proposed amendments also set out a “minimum” and “maximum” scenario for the data collected through this proposed passport and digital certificate scheme.
As a minimum, WHO wants vaccine, test and recovery certificates to contain the person’s name, national identification number, passport number, type of vaccine, batch number of vaccine, date of administration, place of administration and official stamp.
In the maximum scenario, the WHO wants these digital certificates to contain all the data from the minimum scenario plus the person’s vaccination history and a QR code that supports the download of vaccination information.
These proposed amendments to the IHR met with some political resistance. However, the WHO continues to move forward with its plans.
Last week WHO held a meeting to review the proposed changes to the IHR, agree on next steps for more intensive negotiations and plan for the next meeting to be held from 17-20 April. The amendments are expected to be completed by May 2024, according to the provisional timetable.
The WHO intends to adopt these proposed amendments in accordance with Article 21 of the WHO Constitution. If the changes are finalized, member states will be given “timely notice” and six months to reject them before they come into force.
The WHO constitution does not state how many votes are needed to change regulations, but according to SVP Berlin, a think tank that provides guidance on foreign and security policy, WHO regulations have a lower voting threshold than conventions (which require a two-thirds majority). ).
If these proposed amendments make it to this stage, many of the votes will be cast by diplomats who are appointed rather than elected – a process that runs counter to the normal democratic legislative process in which elected officials vote on laws that affect their constituents.
The WHO was a big fan of passports during the coronavirus pandemic and has been working on a global vaccine passport system since early 2022. However, these previous efforts have not attempted to introduce global passports through international law.
In addition to the push for global vaccine passports, these proposed changes to the IHR will also give the WHO more power to target content it deems to be “disinformation” and increased surveillance powers.
And the IHR is just one part of WHO’s two-pronged takeover. The unelected global health agency is also pushing a zero draft of its international pandemic agreement that it aims to complete in May 2024 – the same month proposed amendments to the IHR are expected to be finalised.
Like the IHR, this pandemic agreement will give the WHO new legally binding powers to target misinformation and strengthen its surveillance systems.