The race is on to create a COVID-19 vaccine passport, and it is becoming clear that international travellers will require some documentation to show proof of vaccination.
In theory, vaccinated individuals carrying a health pass or vaccine certificate could bypass having to go into quarantine, showing a negative PCR test or filling out passenger location forms.
What are the Vaccine Passports?
Vaccine passports, also known as health passports, vaccine certificates, or a travel pass, are digital passes that certify that a person has received the vaccination and is unlikely to catch or spread disease. With COVID-19, the digital passes would attest to one of three things: that the holder has tested negative, has recovered, or that they have been vaccinated from the virus.
Why Do We Need Them?
Increasing the ease of travel is essential to boosting economies. Before the pandemic hit, travel and tourism had become one of the most important sectors in the world economy. According to the IMF, travel and tourism accounted for ten per cent of global GCP and more than 320 million jobs worldwide.
International travel declined rapidly after the pandemic hit, making tourism and hospitality one of the most affected sectors.
The UNWTO conducted a global survey among its panel of tourism experts and learned that most experts see a rebound in international tourism by the third quarter of 2021, while around 20 per cent expect it to occur in 2022.
An introduction of a globally standardised vaccine passport or certificate could speed up the return of international travel and positively affect the travel and hospitality industry and the livelihoods of the industry employed.
How Will Vaccine Passports Work?
Vaccination cards are not new. In fact, they have existed for decades. The Yellow Card, officially known as the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, is an internationally recognised paper record of a traveller’s vaccines. However, it is easy to lose, and the risk of fraud is high. It is time that they move into the digital age.
There are a few digital platforms currently in testing or trialled:
- Travel Pass is a mobile app that hosts and verifies travel requirements such a testing results.
- Common Pass allows users a scannable QR code to hold a traveller’s itinerary, test data or vaccine documentation.
- Blok Pass is a health passport that stores updated records of test results and health data.
These passes assess whether the individual’s test results or vaccination records come from a trusted source and satisfy the health screening requirements of the country they want to enter.
Discrimination and Privacy Concerns
Vaccine passports could mean discrimination against individuals who cannot be vaccinated, such as pregnant women or those with allergic reactions or immune problems. In comparison, those who have received the vaccine could receive preferential treatment.
A published report by the University of Exeter in the UK raised essential questions for protecting data privacy and human rights. The digital health passports would have sensitive personal health information while creating a new distinction between persons based on their health status. This, in turn, could be used to determine the degree to which one may enjoy their rights and freedoms.
“The deployment of digital health passports may interfere with an array of fundamental rights, including the right to privacy, the freedoms of movement and peaceful assembly. Therefore, the laws and policies enabling the development and deployment of such digital health passports will have to strike a fair balance between the competing values of safeguarding individual rights and public health interests,” the report stated.
What Does the World Health Organisation (WHO) Say?
In an interim position paper on considerations regarding proof of COVID-19 vaccines, WHO stated, “governments should not introduce requirements of proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry, given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.”
Given the limited availability of vaccines, WHO advises that preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for populations considered at high risk of severe COVID-19. It recommends that individuals who have already been vaccinated should not be exempt from complying with other travel risk-reduction measures.
Whether you call it a vaccine passport, travel pass, or vaccine certificate, what remains clear is that it needs to be a global and standardised solution to validate and authenticate all country regulations regarding COVID-19 passenger travel requirements. Privacy is of the utmost importance and must be designed to satisfy international data privacy regulations.