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Will We Need COVID-19 Health Passports to Travel?

 Earlier this week, the US has reached an important benchmark in the struggle against Covid-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than half of the adult population and 80% of seniors have already received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
For people who have been stuck at home for over a year, the successful vaccine rollout rekindles the hope of returning to normalcy. Along with the possibility to travel and attend mass gatherings emerging on the horizon, the media raised the controversial question of vaccine passports once again. What are these documents and when might we need them? We answer these and other questions below.

What Are Vaccine Passports?

A vaccine passport is a type of document, printed or digital, verifying that a person has received a vaccination. Digital vaccine passports often contain scannable QR codes. Usually, the healthcare provider or a health authority provides a vaccine passport once a person is fully vaccinated against a specific pathogen. It is different from a vaccine card that citizens receive after they were vaccinated. In the case of Covid-19, a person is considered to be fully vaccinated 2 weeks after receiving their final dose of vaccine.
COVID-19 Vaccine Passports woman holding digital pass
While the mass rollout of vaccine passports is brought up now amid the Covid-19 pandemic, vaccine passports are by no means a new invention. For example, people who travel to countries like Brazil or Ghana have to show proof of immunization for yellow fever as they enter the country in question.
“You’re required to get yellow fever vaccination not just to protect you but to keep you from being part of a transmission that spreads the virus either in the destination you’re going to or the next country on your itinerary in your travels,” said Dr. Scott Weisenberg, a travel medicine expert, to Healthline.
Likewise, most states in the US mandate residents to submit proof of vaccination against measles, polio, hepatitis B, and other infectious diseases when they intend to travel or enroll in a public school. Similar procedures are in place internationally. 

Where Are Covid-19 Vaccine Passports Used?

COVID-19 Vaccine Passports airport
Numerous countries, such as The United Kingdom, India, Bahrain, Israel, China, Japan, and the European Union have already announced that they are using some form of vaccine certification for those who have received a Covid-19 vaccine. These certifications will allow people to enjoy activities that were previously off-limits, such as international travel, visiting tourist destinations, and participating in larger public events.
For instance, the European Union proposed a “Digital Green Certificate” for those who have been fully vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19, or received a negative coronavirus test result. This document allows citizens to travel across all 27 countries of the EU, and France and Spain already started testing this system.
In the countries that use these systems, travel will be easier for those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19, as they will not be required to take a Coronavirus test or self-quarantine upon their arrival. Likewise, multiple airlines, such as Delta, Alitalia, Etihad Airways, and Emirates airline already announced that they will start using the International Air Transport Association’s “digital travel pass” or a different type of pass soon.

What About the US?

At present, there are no federal regulations for travel or any other activity that require a Vaccine Passport in the US. However, you must still take a Covid-19 test and have it be negative to be able to travel domestically and internationally. “All air passengers arriving in the US from a foreign country are to get tested no more than 3 days before their flight departs and to present the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight,” states the CDC website.
COVID-19 Vaccine Passports holding a pass

New York was the first to introduce the Excelsior Pass, a digital pass that allows citizens to access events, arts, and entertainment venues statewide. The rationale behind the app is to give struggling businesses a chance to recover as they open their doors to people who have been vaccinated or tested negative for the virus results in New York.

Other states, such as Arizona, Florida, Texas, and Mississippi, on the other hand, took a stance against vaccine passes and released laws limiting businesses and other entities from requiring proof of vaccination.

Concerns Around Covid-19 Passports

While vaccine travel passports already exist in a limited capacity, their use during the Covid-19 pandemic is still considered controversial by some. Firstly, vaccine passports must be designed in a way that would ideally not reveal any personal information, which is a problem, if the entity that requires a vaccine passport is a private business. Secondly, the absence of personal information on the card opens up the possibility of fraud.

According to Healthline, “there are already reports of fake COVID-19 vaccination cards being sold online for hundreds of dollars.” Of course, there are also bigger concerns behind this initiative, such as the question of liberty and the inequality of vaccine access.

Lastly, there is the issue of smartphone use. Since most Vaccine Cards proposed in countries as of now are digital or need to be printed by the citizens, those who don’t have a smartphone or cannot use one for whatever reason may be left without one. All of these are legitimate concerns that are yet to be solved.

The Bottom Line

Vaccine Passports may make international travel and tourism easier this summer. Whether or not you will need a Covid-19 vaccine passport largely depends on where you live. Currently, there are no federal laws in the US requiring such documents, but you may need one in the future if you decide to travel abroad.

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