Everything You Need to Know About Vaccine Passports

COVID-19 Passports—How They Will Work and When They Will Be Available

As society turns its hopes for recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic to widespread vaccination, proposals for “vaccine passports” have emerged from governments, airlines and corporations around the world. A vaccine passport would provide individuals who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with documentation of that fact. It would then possibly allow them to return to activities like travel and socializing in groups that are currently restricted for the general population.

Global Progress Toward Vaccine Passports

Governments across the EU, North America, and Asia are eyeing vaccine passports as a potential way to improve regulations to international travel. U.S. President Joseph Biden recently ordered his government to “assess the feasibility” of creating digital versions of coronavirus vaccination documentation. EU countries like Denmark and Sweden have gone a step further and officially announced the rollout of a digital vaccine passport as early as this summer.

Political leaders in Australia have championed the idea that vaccine passports could replace mandatory quarantine for international travelers in the country famous for its strict pandemic travel restrictions. The Israeli government has recently gone even further, to suggest that a vaccine passport could be used to allow an individual to participate in social events, in-person dining and other restricted activities. They say their proposed “green passport” is a way of incentivizing vaccine compliance and boosting economic growth.

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Global companies are also wading in, with high-traffic airlines like Emirates and Etihad Airways in development with their own digital passes. The IATA, the global trade organization for the airline industry, is supporting these airlines in developing a pass, with hopes that universally recognized documentation will encourage air travel and aid the struggling industry in recovery. Tech giant IBM is applying their blockchain technology to a Digital Health Pass, aimed at integrating multiple health information documentation systems into one universal health passport.

Precedent for International Travel

The idea of providing proof of vaccination in order to travel is not a new one—in fact international travelers have been doing it for decades, obtaining proof of vaccination against malaria, yellow fever, rubella and other diseases in order to travel to and from certain countries. The proof is usually a slip of paper, signed and stamped by the authorizing agency, called a “yellow paper.”

The difference between these “yellow papers” and the new COVID-19 passports, some of which are already in production or design stages, is the calls for universal adoption and universal acceptance of the passport. Almost all the proposed plans are completely digital, as well, adding a technical design aspect that raises questions of accessibility for those without internet access or smartphones with which to carry a digital pass.

Good News for Would-Be Vacationers

As countries around the globe fast-track vaccination efforts, vaccine documentation will likely become the norm. While rollouts may be staggered or delayed, vaccine passports are most likely going to appear on smartphones and digital wallets—first for a lucky few, and then for much of the general populace. These passports will be a step towards improving health and safety for international travelers, and hopefully making quarantines and travel restrictions a thing of the past.