Why The Travel Industry Is Ready To Embrace Covid-19 Vaccination Passports

Many airlines are already looking into implementing a vaccine passport requirement to motivate safe travel as more individuals receive their doses around the world.

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Authorities in Europe have already begun to embrace the concept as a means of rebuilding some of the economic loss that the tourism sectors of the world’s economy endured within the past year. With the summer vacation season quickly approaching as well, many travel leaders are ready to get back to a sense of normalcy. 

There are currently a few technology companies working with different travel groups on developing these passports, which are also being referred to as health certificates, or travel passes. The biggest issue so far is the uncertainty over what travelers should do if they’re going to a destination that doesn’t require the certificates, or live in a country that doesn’t require one but they want to go to one that does. 

Should vaccine passports become a universally accepted way to safely travel, the information would likely be stored on a phone or other mobile device so that vaccinated individuals don’t have to worry about carrying around another card/form of identification. According to Alexandre de Juniac, the CEO of an airline trade group, many travel industry leaders are expecting these health passes to be implemented as a means of helping the economy recover. 

“Airlines are counting on vaccine passports to convince governments to drop some of the restrictions that discourage visitors. The significance of this to re-starting international aviation cannot be overstated.”

The International Air Transport Association and IBM are just two groups that are currently developing versions of a vaccination passport that could be used internationally. There are several other private companies currently working on developing similar technology as well. Some countries have already begun implementing versions of these “health passes” as a means of reopening certain businesses that have had to close due to safety concerns. 

Israel, for example, is currently using something known as “green passports” for its citizens. Vaccinated individuals use these green passports to attend public events like concerts or any other gathering that promotes closer contact. Denmark is also expected to implement a travel passport for its citizens. 

Many international air travel companies are eager to get these programs developed as a means of helping hotels and other businesses within the tourism industry recover from the past year. One airline trading group has already tested an app for passengers traveling from Singapore to London. Passengers had a digital version of their passports, Covid-19 test results, and travel restrictions for both destinations ready to go. 

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“Vaccine passports will be most common on international flights. Some countries already require proof of vaccination for diseases such as yellow fever, so a digital health passport isn’t much of a leap.”

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According to Ashish Jha, dean of the public health school at Brown University, while we know the available vaccines are most effective at preventing serious illness caused by Covid-19, we still don’t have a lot of evidence regarding how vaccinated individuals can continue to spread the virus. 

“I think we have enough evidence right now to say that these vaccines cut transmission, that vaccinated people are much less likely to transmit the disease. How much? We don’t know, my guess is around 80%,” he explained. The CDC still recommends against travel. 

Lisa Eckenwiler, who teaches health ethics at George Mason University, thinks that vaccine passports “will primarily benefit people in wealthier countries and relatively affluent people within each country. It’s going to be the wealthy, the privileged, who are going to get to fly around, and other people won’t have access to that. I see a particular potential for unfairness if health passes expand to workplaces and schools.”

Many critics are also worried about how well these apps will protect everyone’s personal information. Some tech groups, like IBM, has already confirmed that they would be using blockchain technology to prevent personal information from being stored in the app. 

According to Andy Slavitt, a White House virus-response adviser, the Biden Administration is leaving privacy issues up to the private companies creating these apps: “It’s not the role of the government to hold that data. It needs to be private, the data should be secure, the access to it should be free, it should be available both digitally and in paper and in multiple languages.”