More than 500 million people around the world have received some form of the COVID vaccine. As the U.S. and many other countries look at the possibility of re-opening travel, will you need a vaccine passport to prove that you’ve been vaccinated if you’d like to travel domestically or internationally?
What Is a Vaccine Passport?
A “vaccine passport” is simply a record that indicates its owner has either been vaccinated or tested negative for COVID. Several companies have developed technology that makes this pass digital and accessible by smartphone. As many countries open tourism, they may require proof of vaccination or a negative test before allowing visitors to enter.
This “passport” would enable individuals who are interested in traveling to provide documentation easily to airlines, customs agents, or hotels based on their particular requirements.
How to Obtain a Vaccine Passport
The short answer is — it depends. Currently, there is no centralized vaccine passport in the United States. Although it is a matter of public health, the Biden administration does not believe it’s a matter of public policy.
“It’s not the role of the government to hold that data and to do that,” said Andy Slavitt, a White House virus-response adviser in USA Today. “It needs to be private, the data should be secure, the access to it should be free, it should be available both digitally and in paper and in multiple languages.”
That privatization is already taking place. The International Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents global airlines has already been working on its version called Travel Pass. Technology companies like IBM are working on their own version and the World Health Organization (WHO) is working to create a digital framework that would allow different forms of a digital vaccination certificate to be accepted throughout the world. However, the WHO does not believe vaccinations should be required for international travel since there is still no clear evidence about the vaccine’s efficacy in preventing transmission of the virus.
How Else Can They Be Used?
There could be other uses for a digital vaccination record or “passport.” Countries like Israel and Denmark are developing a national version that would not only enable citizens to travel but to also attend large events like concerts and conventions.
New York became the first state to announce its own COVID vaccination certification called Excelsior. The app, pictured above, can be accessed by smartphone can be used at large sporting venues like Yankee Stadium or Madison Square Garden. It will even enable people to increase the size of private events like weddings or conventions.
The governors of Florida and Texas have signed executive orders banning vaccine passports. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis cited personal freedom and privacy issues as his reasoning. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said via Twitter, “Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives.”
Are There Risks?
Many opponents to the idea of vaccine passports site privacy issues as their primary concern. Individuals would be sharing a great deal of personal information through this digital format. Likewise, the vaccine data would all have to be housed somewhere, which puts participants at risk for security breaches.
Companies developing the technology have stated that users would be able to share their information only when they chose to, and would have to access the data themselves to do so. However, it’s too soon to know for sure how they would work.
Vaccination passports are also seen as another way to potentially marginalize underrepresented groups. Vaccinations are still not readily available in many poorer countries. The passport also requires a smart phone to utilize it, which leaves many at a disadvantage.
However, if it is to be used for leisure or business travel, the assumption is that most companies or travelers have the means to afford both travel and the technology to make this possible. Plus, those travelers would bring relief to countries who rely on business or tourism for large parts of their national economy.
While there are many iterations of a digital passport, there is not one universal application available. Potential travelers will most likely see many variations depending on where they choose to travel. Many countries are hoping that their tourism will be able to at least begin again this summer, but if and how that happens remains to be seen.