Vaccine Passports – Travel Cure Or Controversy?

Lisa Smith, BA (Hons), CeFA
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Vaccine passports are fast becoming the next big COVID-19 controversy for government around the world.

Some politicians see the passports as a way of getting their economies back on track – especially in countries earning significant incomes from tourism.

Others fear the idea will see ‘travel apartheid’ with wealthier travellers getting a vaccine stamp in their passports while millions of others are denied the chance to have the life-saving medicine.

Vaccine passports explained

A vaccine passport is not a paper document like a standard passport but a digital record that shows the holder has had the COVID-19 vaccine, tested positive as a carrier of COVID-19 antibodies or has passed a recent test for the illness.

The data would be maintained in a software app on a smartphone or other mobile device.

A central database holding the information would be easier and cheaper to build, but the worry is the data would be open to misuse or hackers.

The idea on the table is for doctors or medical staff administering the vaccine or tests to create the digital certificate and to add a photograph of the patient.

Why would you need a vaccine passport?

Governments proposing vaccine passports envisage lots of uses for the digital certificate.

Effectively, the passport makes the world binary. 

Either you have an up-to-date passport and have free access to public transport, hotels, restaurants, shops and the myriad of other places where people socialise in groups, or you don’t, so you are barred from participation.

What’s more everyone in your family or social bubble would need a passport if you were to take part in any social activity outside your home.

How long before a vaccine passport is ready?

The UK government has invested £75,000 in start-up funding with two companies – Mvine and iProov. They say their apps are moving into the testing phase.

The Department of Health explained there are no plans to introduce a national vaccine passport in the UK because doctors are not clear that a vaccine stops transmission of COVID-19. At this stage, the scientists want to see more data that will only come as more groups are vaccinated.

Governments worldwide are looking at setting up their own vaccine passports, while in the United States, computer giants Microsoft and Oracle have joined the Mayo Clinic to launch a project called the Vaccination Credential Initiative. The aim is to verify claims that people have been vaccinated.

The European Union has offered initial backing to the idea of vaccine passports – with reservations. The Greek government, supported by Italy, is leading the call in a bid to quickly invite tourists back and boost the economy.

EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas said it was ‘perfectly imaginable that this can open avenues for other use, including facilitating travel’.

Vaccine passport critics

Critics argue the idea of a vaccine passport is to help manage who has received the jab or tests, not to stop them for taking part in normal activities.

The passport should also differentiate who has not had the vaccine for medical reasons.

Phased roll-outs to target groups and bumps in the supply chain will also influence who has or does not have the vaccine for some time to come.

Leading the anti-passport lobby is the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The WHO Emergency Committee has pleaded with governments not to introduce the passports.

“I need to be blunt: the world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure – and the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,” said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

He pointed out 39 million vaccine doses had been administered in the world’s 50 richest countries, while only 25 have taken place in one of the world’s poorest nations.

The Spread Of COVID-19

COVID-19 or the coronavirus has gripped every country in the world.

In less than a year since the first case was documented in March 2020, the pandemic has infected more than 96 million people, causing more than 2 million deaths.

Greece wants vaccine passports introduced and has escaped the impact of COVID-19 comparatively lightly with 150,000 cases and 5,545 deaths – ranking 68th in the world.

The US is worst hit with 25 million cases and 400,000 deaths.

The UK is ranked fifth with 3.5 million cases and 93,000 deaths, just ahead of the holiday destinations of France, Italy, Turkey and Spain.

Latest global COVID-19 data

Vaccine Passport FAQ

Proving you have had the COVID-19 vaccine jab or a recent negative test when travelling between countries is a new hurdle for mobile expats.

Governments are considering the best way to deliver the proof but cannot agree how to or even if vaccine passports are worthwhile as a way of breaking coronavirus transmission chains.

If you need to show you are vaccinated, here are answers to some of the most asked questions about COVID-19 passports.

How will a vaccine passport affect travel?

If you are travelling across borders, the vaccine passport should do away with the need for coronavirus tests and isolation by confirming you have been inoculated.

Will every country accept the passport?

That’s an unknown. There is no common standard for the digital ID and no procedure in place for one country accepting another country’s data.

Why do governments want the passport?

Many of the calls in support of a vaccine passport come from countries dependent on tourist economies. They see the passports as a way of rebuilding their economies, but other countries claim travellers are spreading COVID-19 and borders must be sealed to control the virus.

Can I get a vaccine passport now?

No. The software is still in development and unavailable to the public.

Will my wife and children each need a vaccine passport?

Yes. The vaccine passport will include biometric information about the holder, so each person in a family or social bubble will need their own passport.

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