A new term has entered the vocabulary of governments and those who work in the travel industry: the ‘vaccine passport.’
An executive order from US President Joe Biden, aimed at curbing the pandemic, asks government agencies to “evaluate the feasibility” of linking COVID-19 vaccination certificates with other vaccination documents and making digital versions of them.
Denmark’s government said on Wednesday that in the next three to four months it will roll out a digital passport that will allow its citizens to prove that they have been vaccinated.
Governments are not the only ones suggesting vaccination passports. In a few weeks, Etihad Airways and Emirates will begin using a digital travel pass, developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), to assist passengers with their travel plans and provide Airlines and governments documents that they have received the vaccine or that they have been tested for COVID-19.
The challenge at the moment is to create a document or application that is accepted around the world, that protects privacy and that is affordable for anyone regardless of their economic level or if they have access to smartphones.
Here’s what we know about the current status of digital vaccination passports.
What is a vaccine pass or passport?
A vaccination pass or passport is a document that proves that you have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Some versions will also allow people to prove that they have tested negative for the coronavirus and can therefore travel more easily. The versions that airlines, industry groups, nonprofits, and tech companies are currently developing will be something that you can open on your mobile phone as an app or as part of your digital wallet.
“We try to digitize a process that is already being carried out today and turn it into something more harmonious and simple, which makes it easier for people to travel from one country to another without having to show different papers in each country or different documents at each checkpoint,” said Nick Careen, IATA’s Senior Vice President of Airports, Passengers, Cargo and Security. Careen has been leading the IATA travel pass initiative.
IATA is one of several organizations that have been working for years to find digital solutions that simplify the travel credentialing process; during the pandemic, these groups have focused on including vaccination status. The idea is that if you have all the pertinent information on your phone, it will save a significant amount of time.
In addition to IATA, IBM has been developing its own Digital Health Pass, which would give individuals the ability to present proof of vaccination or a negative test in order to enter public establishments, such as sports stadiums, airplanes, universities or work places. This pass, based on IBM’s blockchain technology, can use multiple types of data, including temperature checks, virus exposure notifications, test results, and vaccination status.
The World Economic Forum and The Commons Project Foundation, a Swiss non-profit organization, have been testing a digital health passport called CommonPass, which would allow travelers to access testing or vaccination information. The pass would generate a QR code that would be shown to the authorities.
Why would you need a vaccination pass or passport?
As more people are inoculated, there will likely be aspects of public life in which only people who have been vaccinated will be able to participate. IATA’s Careen said sports organizations, concert venues and tourism agencies have all reached out for identification tech support.
For international travel, the government and health authorities will need to know if you have been vaccinated or tested negative for the virus. Many countries already require documents proving a negative test result in order to enter. The passes could be essential to reopening the tourism industry, said Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general of the World Tourism Organization (a specialized agency of the United Nations).
“A key element that is vital for the restart of tourism is the regularity and harmonization of the rules and protocols related to international travel,” he said in an email. “This can be offered as evidence of vaccination through the coordinated introduction of what we might call ‘health passports’, for example. These passports can also eliminate the need to be quarantined upon arrival, a policy that also hampers the return of international tourism.”
Dakota Gruener, CEO of ID2020, a global public-private partnership, said there are three possible paths for digital credentialing in response to the coronavirus. The first, which is largely out of the question, is the creation of immunity certificates, which are documents that would show that people have developed some degree of immunity to the virus. The second is to be able to prove that you have tested negative for the virus. The third is being able to show that you have been vaccinated. Experts agree that the latter two are the most important for getting the travel industry back on track.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest from airlines, airline industry groups, customs and border control agencies, and travelers, all saying, ‘how can I get on a plane safely or as a condition of getting in to a country, or getting on a train, or whatever the case, and show that I have been tested or vaccinated?'” Gruener said.
Gruener is one of the experts in a group sponsored by the World Health Organization charged with establishing global standards for digital vaccination certificates.
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