With vaccination numbers rising and some aspects of life opening back up, there is a new struggle unique to this stage of our pandemic experience: once you’re vaccinated, then what?
As more and more people receive the vaccine, it is likely that some events and travel options will be exclusive to those vaccinated, creating the issue of proving vaccination. It is in this environment that the term “vaccine passport” has started to make its way into our vernacular. It is the concept of digitized documentation stating that you have been vaccinated, accessible on your smartphone. Denmark said back in February that they would begin rolling out a digital passport in the coming months, and other governments have discussed the possibility as well. The International Air Transport Association is also a strong supporter of the idea, with airlines such as Emirates already planning to use a digital travel pass to help expedite things for travelers.
“It’s about trying to digitize the process that happens now and make it into something that allows for more harmony and ease, making it easier for people to travel between countries without having to pull out different papers for different countries and different documents at different checkpoints,” said Nick Careen, who has been leading the travel pass initiative at IATA.
Groups other than governments have already been developing versions of these passes. IBM has been working on a digital health pass that “can utilize multiple data types, including temperature checks, virus exposure notifications, test results and vaccine status.” A Swiss nonprofit, the Commons Project Foundation, has been working in accordance with the World Economic Forum and has been testing a digital health passport, CommonPass. CommonPass would generate a QR code to be shown to authorities and would also give travelers important information regarding testing and vaccines.
“Such passes could be essential to restarting the tourism industry,” writes the New York Times. The tourism industry, like many others, has been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic, and it employs significant portions of the local populations in developing nations.
One of the most contentious issues surrounding this concept is the issue of privacy. There is concern with developing an app of this scale with access to people’s medical records, specifically regarding how to make the information completely secure. Additionally, the passports would need to be developed in a way that provides options for those without access to smartphones as well.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest from airlines, airline industry groups, customs and border control agencies and travelers all saying, ‘how do I safely get on a plane or as a condition of entry into a country, get on a train, whatever the case may be, and prove that I have been tested or vaccinated?’” said Dakota Gruener, the executive director of ID2020.