Feb 12, 2021

Norms, standards, and enforcement of the COVID-19 International Certificate of Vaccination


The COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented; it has negatively impacted the global economy, trade, food security, and the global supply chain of goods and services, including life-saving medicines. In their desperation to contain the trans-border spread of the disease, World Health Organization (WHO) Member States imposed partial or complete border closures. At least 7.3 billion people (93% of the world’s population) are negatively impacted by border closures.

The discourse about the potential measures for reopening borders safely has begun, with “vaccination” at the forefront of this discourse.

Global leaders, policymakers, public health scholars, and practitioners are considering whether a COVID-19 International Certificate of Vaccination might be the way forward for safely reopening borders and facilitating the free movement of people, goods and services as we deal with this pandemic in the future.

Generally, vaccine certificates help prevent, protect, and control the spread of diseases and support public health responses to the international spread of diseases. Vaccine certificates (International Certificates of Vaccination or Prophylaxis) document the diseases against which individuals have been vaccinated.

Meningitis, Polio, and Yellow Fever Certificates are some of the most commonly used vaccine certificates, without which individuals can be denied entry into countries that require those certificates.

The only disease specifically designated in the revised International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005), for which proof of vaccination or prophylaxis is required by a State Party as a condition of entry, is Yellow Fever. All yellow fever vaccines are certified by the WHO. Once any vaccine is developed and deemed fit for human use against COVID-19, norms and standards need to be established for the vaccine, including the COVID-19 vaccine certification for international movement.

Project objectives:

1) The WHO has traditionally established norms and standards in global health and could be assigned to spearhead standards-setting for this International Certificate of Vaccination. The WHO’s Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate will be taken as a case study example to assess the WHO’s role and potential in setting the standards for COVID-19 International Certificate of Vaccination.

2) In the current geopolitical environment (criticism over the WHO’s functional role in global health and US withdrawal of funding to the WHO), we anticipate that some governments may consider other global organisations such as GAVI (the vaccine alliance), instead of WHO. So it is important to analyze the potential of organizations, like GAVI, to be engaged in norms and standards-setting for any COVID-19 International Certificate of Vaccination.

3) We will also analyze the political acceptability of the COVID-19 vaccine certificate.

Selected outcomes

This project will provide policy guidance and insights for government and international health authorities. It will have the potential to guide countries in safely reopening their borders to the free movement of people, goods and services.