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Duke University experts weigh in on vaccine distribution, vaccine passports and more

Updated: Apr. 7, 2021 at 3:05 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A panel of Duke experts hosted a webinar on Wednesday where they discussed the coronavirus pandemic, along with topics such as herd immunity, vaccine distribution and the possibility of vaccine passports.

The panel consisted of Nita Farahany, professor of law and professor of philosophy; Lavanya Vasudevan, assister professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health and the Global Health Institute; and Dr. Emmanuel “Chip” Walter, Jr., Vaccine Institute chief medical officer.

The experts highlighted research showing that substantial progress has been made in the efforts to vaccine the U.S. population. Dr. Walter, Jr. said that about 167 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered.

However, he added that in order to reach “herd immunity” (in which 70-85 percent of the population is vaccinated), experts are now looking to how children and teens factor into that number. While clinical trials are underway, children -who make up 23 percent of the population- largely remain unable to be vaccinated.

Another hotly-debated topic was the potential for vaccine passports. Farahany said some benefits are heightened confidence, comfort and security among the public in returning back to “normal” and could, therefore, help boost business and the economy.

But the risks, Farahany says, are still too significant at this time; she said health leaders are concerned the passports could generate a false sense of security, particularly since a person can still become infected and spread the coronavirus even after getting the shot.

Farahany also said there were equity concerns, as medical professionals continue to work diligently to get those disproportionately affected by COVID-19,(i.e. minority and rural populations)- vaccinated.

Those populations, she said, also tend to have the highest concerns with trust towards the medical community. Farahany believes the answer to that distrust is more education and transparency, not to require vaccine passports when there are still lingering concerns of privacy that would, thus, build that distrust.

“We need to have a moment where we decide what the appropriate pathway forward is,” said Farahany. “Suddenly you have a lot of corporations trying to ‘get into the game’ and owning different biometric information about individuals that would serve as the gateway for access and entry in different settings.”

Farahany said vaccine passports differ from those required to fly internationally, for example, in that the latter are widely available, used in limited contexts and have full regulatory control.

All three vaccines being administered in the U.S. are currently under Emergency Use Authorization.

Experts on Wednesday also said the effort to get mass populations vaccinated internationally will likely impact restrictions in the U.S. as well, and they also say the rise of coronavirus variants could become a concern in vaccine research. The variants could impact whether the coronavirus vaccine becomes one administered annually, much like the flu vaccine.

To view the webinar in full, you can view it here under Duke University’s YouTube channel.

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