Leaving a Mark: Lessons on Discrimination from Vaccine Scars to COVID-19

Ms Milla McLean1

1School of Medicine, Deakin University, Waurn Ponds, Australia

Vaccination is an important tool in the public health toolbox. The benefits of vaccination are not only for the individual but extend to the entire community. While there are obvious benefits to vaccination, there are also unintended vaccine-related harms some of which pertain to the status of being vaccinated. Vaccination status can manifest itself as a medical record, a digital or paper certificate or as a scar on one’s arm. There are two vaccines that leave a scar, these are the Smallpox and BCG vaccines. The status afforded by a Smallpox vaccination allowed people certain social privileges and anecdotal evidence suggests the BCG scar can lead to cultural discrimination with references to the scar as a “FOB Mark”. In this presentation, I will explore the unintended harms from vaccination scars and publicly identifying vaccination status and discuss how these lessons of social and cultural discrimination could apply to the current COVID-19 vaccination program. The Australian government recently introduced a COVID-19 vaccination certificate against World Health Organisation recommendations that has been proposed to allow a person travel and attend certain events. Considering that at the time of writing only 22% of the population are vaccinated and not all Australians have been given the right to be vaccinated as yet, I discuss how the certificate is inequitable and discriminatory. Taking the lessons from Smallpox and BCG into consideration, we offer recommendations on the implementation of Australian COVID-19 vaccination passports in a more ethical and minimally discriminatory manner.


Milla is a final year medical student with a particular interest in infectious diseases and more recently, public health ethics. While her research interests have thus far been laboratory based in the fields of HIV and Tuberculosis (https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5845-3307), she hopes to extend her research to also consider the impact that infectious diseases have on broader social and ethical issues as we know that science and ethics are inextricably linked.

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