Vaccine Passports and Future Travel

Soon most American adults will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccines, which hopefully leads to more businesses and international borders reopening. However a strong debate has started across the United States over whether a digital health certificate (some have coined as a “vaccine passport) should be required to prove immunization status.

Currently, Americans are issued a white paper card as evidence of their Covid-19 Vaccination, although these can easily be forged or falsified. Online scammers have already begun selling false and stolen vaccine cards.

Even though the federal government said it will not introduce digital vaccine passports by federal mandate, a growing number of businesses — live entertainment venues, cruise lines, and even sports venues — are vocal about requiring proof of vaccinations for entry or services. Hundreds of digital health pass initiatives are now scrambling to launch apps that provide a verified electronic record of immunizations and negative Covid-19 test results to help streamline the process.

States like Texas and Florida have banned businesses from requiring vaccination certificates, raising privacy and equity concerns, but digital developers continue their argument that the infrastructure is secure and will help speed up the process of reopening society and reviving travel.

While governments, tech companies, airlines, and other industries are testing different versions of digital health “vaccine passports”, the process comes with great technical challenges. As they are struggling to create compatibility between each system and health records to ensure they are pulled in a safe and controlled format, the challenge arises because of the sheer number of app initiatives underway. For these vaccine certificates to be useful, countries, airlines, and businesses must agree on a common standard. There is an added complexity of having individual states share data with different platforms while still maintaining resident privacy.

Are vaccine passports actually available? Right now, it’s only available if you live in New York. New York is the first state in the U.S. to launch a digital health certificate called the Excelsior Pass, which verifies a person’s negative coronavirus test results and their Covid-19 vaccination records. Most businesses in New York require individuals to show their state ID along with their Excelsior Pass to prevent potential fraud. So far, this pass has been used by thousands of New Yorkers to enter Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, and other public venues.

In the world, other countries are requiring fully vaccinated residents to show their records digitally. Israel requires its residents to show an electronic “Green Pass” to attend places such as gyms, concerts, wedding halls, and to dine indoors. When it comes to foreign visitors, Israel requires a blood test upon arrival to prove vaccination. Once the vaccination certificate is introduced for travelers, the blood test will no longer be required.

The European Union has considered the idea of an electronic vaccine certificate with hopes it would be available by June of 2021, however each individual member country will be able to set its own rules for travel requirements.

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