Covid-19 Passports May Be Key For Traveling In A Post-Pandemic World

Individuals with an “immunity passport” will be able to navigate through the world much more easily than those still at risk for catching the coronavirus.

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Now that a multitude of companies are gearing up to distribute their Covid-19 vaccines in 2021, a lot of questions are being raised in regards to how we will navigate in a world during that transitional period where everyone’s waiting to be vaccinated. One of the most creative and heavily discussed options is the idea of a Covid-19 immunity passport that would essentially allow individuals who have been vaccinated to easily prove that they’ve received their dosages when entering into certain public spaces. 

This could allow immunized individuals to travel with fewer restrictions or attend certain cultural events that may be able to reopen with the vaccine distribution as well. Dr. Amesh Adalja is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security and also a spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, who recently spoke with the media about the potential for some sort of immunization “card.” 

The card itself will likely come directly from the World Health Organization and Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (WHO/CDC) to ensure that it would be an official government document that would be difficult to replicate; like a drivers license. Currently the biggest existing example of an immunization “passport” is the “yellow card” one receives from the WHO/CDC after receiving their yellow fever vaccine; which is required for individuals entering certain countries, hence the existence of the card to prove that immunization at the border. 

“Airlines are interested in apps that could allow their customers to enter and store immunization information, test results and other medical documents.”

Adalja mentioned that one of the biggest issues with the yellow card system is that they’re easy to replicate, which is why many tech companies are already looking into the possibility of creating some sort of digital platform that could contain these immunity certifications. It would work the same way it does when an individual gets TSA Precheck, allowing them to skip the security line. Adalja mentioned that an app could easily “interface with state immunization registries to verify the information.”

“It would be something that’s easier to facilitate than having to carry and produce the card every time,” however, the WHO has been weary at the idea of an “immunity passport” in the context of this specific pandemic. This is mainly due to the fact that the Covid-19 virus is so unpredictable, and even though individuals are starting to be vaccinated, we still don’t know how long that immunization actually lasts, “so it makes it a little bit tricky to say, ‘OK, you can move around freely indefinitely,’ until we get a little bit more information,” according to Adalja. 

Beyond immunity, there are also ethical concerns due to the fact that some individuals may not be able to be as easily vaccinated as others due to their socioeconomic status. Given the multitude of disparities that exist within the healthcare system, it’s hard to say how it would work with half of the country walking around with the privilege of flashing their immunization on their phones while others are struggling to get all their loved ones protected. According to Alexandra Phelan, an assistant professor at Georgetown University Medical Center, implementing “Covid-19 passports” would just limit people’s access to the free world. 

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“Immunity passports would impose an artificial restriction on who can and cannot participate in social, civic, and economic activities.”

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To counter that, Adalja believes that “that’s the point,” and for individuals who may make the choice not to be vaccinated, that will be their consequence. That wouldn’t necessarily mean that those individuals will be banned from traveling or attending sports games in the future, they just will likely have to go through a much more strenuous process to quarantine and get tested beforehand. 

This could also be beneficial to certain individual businesses who want to ensure all of their customers and clients are healthy and thus will keep everyone else in the space healthy. Restaurants, bars, and stores have always had the legal ability to refuse service to customers for pretty much any reason; “no shoes, no shirt, no service,” so it’s likely that “no vaccine” could be added to that list very soon. 

 JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and Airport Council International are all airlines that are currently enrolled in CommonPass, a new digital platform that lets individual users display their Covid status. The system will start rolling out this month for passengers on flights from New York, Boston, London, and Hong Kong. 

AOKpass, Travel Pass, IBM, and Clear are all developing platforms that will carry out similar functions as well as display information regarding future vaccination status’. Since the initial rollouts of the Covid-19 vaccine will be slow and deferred to specific groups like healthcare workers and elderly individuals, it’s likely that things like Covid-19 passports and other safety measures will be a part of our day-today lives for quite some time.