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No coronavirus vaccine, no entry? Experts say it’s possible in pandemic’s next stage

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On the heels of positive news from a potential coronavirus vaccine candidate, Ticketmaster is thinking about the future.

The company confirmed to Global News that it is “exploring” a new strategy that would allow individual event organizers to require fans to verify their vaccination status, or whether they’ve tested negative for COVID-19 within a 24-to-72-hour window, prior to attending events.

It won’t be a blanket mandate, Ticketmaster said, but “a tool in the box” for event organizers to implement at their discretion “based on their preferences and local health guidelines.”

The idea is just a “potential concept,” the company said, but it could work like this: Fans who purchase tickets for a designated event would need to verify that they’ve already been vaccinated or tested negative during a fixed period of time. The exact length may vary by local public health guidelines.

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Ticketholders would request to have a lab deliver results of their test or vaccination certification to their health information company, who would then verify the results with Ticketmaster.

No certified vaccine? No negative COVID-19 test? An event organizer can deny your tickets.

“There’s a lot of ethical questions behind this. It looks, on the surface, pretty straightforward, but I think we need to pay a lot more attention to this,” said Kerry Bowman, bioethics and global health professor at the University of Toronto.

“The private sector is going to force us into something that society might not be ready for.”

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‘Immunity passport?’

Ticketmaster’s potential plan would revolve around the company’s smartphone app.

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According to a report by Billboard, the app would link with third party health information companies, like IBM’s Digital Health Pass or CLEAR Health Pass — which delivers personal health data to verified IDs and can display COVID-19 test results — as well as testing and vaccine distribution providers.

The company made it clear: “Ticketmaster will not be able to require such parameters — it would always be up to the event organizer.”

While only an idea, it’s still enough to get people thinking, according to Bowman.

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In fact, it’s not an entirely new idea, he said. “This comes in under the idea of immunity passports, in a way.”

Some governments have suggested that designing a strategy to detect the virus could enable people to travel or return to work, assuming that they are protected against reinfection. An “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate” would hypothetically prove the latter.

It hasn’t gotten very far. While there is a growing body of research suggesting COVID-19 antibodies can be present for months after infection, scientists and the World Health Organization alike have stressed that their presence does not equal immunity to reinfection.

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The “immunity passport” concept has been discouraged by the WHO and others, though that hasn’t stopped some from trying it out.

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Digital “health passport” trials are underway in the airline industry. The aim is to design a common standard to prove a traveller is COVID-19-free or vaccinated, in an effort to reopen borders and reboot the travel industry.

“This is about risk mitigation. There is no perfectly safe solution,” said Paul Meyer, CEO at the Commons Project, which has created a digital health pass backed by the World Economic Forum. “This is about providing information that can help countries reduce the risk of [COVID-19] spreading.”

Bowman says all efforts and potential policies are “premature,” especially Ticketmaster’s since it hinges on a vaccine — which the world does not yet have.

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Read more: Ticketmaster refines refund policy after backlash from Canadian concertgoers

“We don’t know the nature, the degree and the duration of immunity, really,” he said.

“Let’s say the Pfizer vaccine is what they say it is. Well, for how long are you immune? We don’t know. And the million-dollar question for Ticketmaster is — vaccines may prevent you from being ill, but we don’t yet know if people can have a low-grade infection, not get ill, and still pass it on to other people. From a concert point-of-view, that would be very problematic.”

Corporate responsibility

Brett Skinner, the founder and CEO of the Canadian Health Policy Institute, has a different point of view.

He said Ticketmaster exploring a potential discretion for event holders is not only “good corporate social responsibility” but something the private sector needs to start thinking more about.

“These are private companies offering ticket services to private venues, and they’re offering their services and venues on a voluntary basis. Their customers aren’t being forced to purchase these services,” he told Global News.

“It’s different from a government saying, ‘You can’t get access to a public space without a vaccine.’ It’s a different ball of wax.”

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News of Ticketmaster’s possible new safety features set off sharp reaction online. Some on Twitter accused the company of infringing on personal rights and privacy while others suggested they’d do what it takes to see a live show or sporting event again.

Skinner said it’s natural for a potential policy like this to ring alarm bells, but that there’s still a “need to protect social and public health” while simultaneously re-igniting parts of the economy that have been otherwise frozen.

“Plus, governments like Canada have asked their citizens to download apps and make use of them,” he said. “It’s only natural that if the technology exists, the private sector would adopt it into their corporate social responsibility regarding COVID-19.”

Ticketmaster did not clarify whether Canada would be included in the consideration of such a strategy when asked by Global News.

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Even so, Bowman thinks Canada would be far more hesitant.

“I think we’re all open to rethinking all kinds of things moving forward.”

“Hopefully soon Canadians will actually start getting vaccinations and then we’ll really have to start making decisions related to some of these things. Maybe we can thank Ticketmaster, because it’s pushing us into thinking about it.”