The next fight: Vaccine passports

As vaccination numbers grow, it is increasingly likely that at least some places are going to ask for proof of covid-19 vaccination to enter their spaces and that some businesses may require their employees to be vaccinated if they are to return to offices. Given how some people became absolutely freaked out by the minimal requirement to weak masks, losing their minds to the extent of comparing it to Jews being forced by to wear the Star of David during the period of the Holocaust, one can only imagine how apoplectic they are going to get over this issue.

The most likely place where this requirement will begin to be imposed is in international travel, where the idea of people having digital vaccination certificates is gaining ground.

Keen to avoid losing another summer of holiday revenue to the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union, some Asian governments and the airline industry are scrambling to develop so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports to help kickstart international travel.

They’re working on systems that would allow travelers to use mobile phone apps to prove they’ve been vaccinated, which could help them avoid onerous quarantine requirements at their destinations.

Vaccination passports would add another digital layer to the multitude of existing coronavirus health and contact tracing apps many countries and U.S. states have rolled out. Their use domestically to reopen local economies has been hotly debated, with many opposed to requiring them for pubs, concerts and sporting events. However, there’s more momentum to use them for international travel, especially as countries like Iceland open their borders to vaccinated visitors and others like Saudi Arabia start allowing vaccinated citizens to travel abroad. The EU’s decision last week to open its borders to fully vaccinated travelers adds even more urgency.

So how will it work?

The first part of a vaccination passport is the user’s official or approved electronic immunization record.

The idea is that travelers will flash a QR code on their phones so it can be scanned at, say, an airport or train station, using an official verification app that checks with national databases, via an EU technical “gateway.”

Travelers also need a smartphone app to carry any eventual official vaccination certificates.
The EU’s project includes open source technology European countries can use to build their own official mobile wallets.

The International Air Transport Association, an airline industry group, has its smartphone IATA Travel Pass, which airlines including Qantas, Japan Airlines, Emirates, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have signed up to. A rival effort, CommonPass, has gained traction with carriers like Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, United and Lufthansa.

Travelers can already use the apps to verify that their COVID-19 test results are accepted at their destination. Travel Pass and CommonPass are so far only available to travelers on airlines that are using them. Both can also be integrated into airline travel apps so users can verify their vaccine status when they check in online. Both are also expected to work with the EU certificates. CommonPass says users will be able to import vaccine credentials by mid-June.

What about people who don’t have smartphones? Or families that don’t have a device for each member? IATA and EU officials say they’re are working on solutions, including paper-based options.

The US government is already exploring this possibility of requiring these passports for travelers going in and out of the country. Such vaccination passports (the yellow booklet issued by the WHO) used to be quite widely used in the past (I recall carrying one along with my passport when traveling) but are now much rarer as diseases such as cholera and smallpox have been brought under control. But they are still required when traveling to certain countries where yellow fever is endemic.

One big problem is that not all countries have enough covid-19 vaccines to go around.

Another problem will be detect people who create fake certifications, either the original paper vaccination certificate or the digital one.

But the biggest problem is likely to arise from anti-vaxxers who will argue that having to reveal their vaccination status is a massive invasion of their privacy, even though they are willing to share so many other personal details with the companies that they do business with. They may have difficulties with airlines since they are private companies and it is not clear, for example, if the courts in any country can force international airlines to not require these passports.

But that will not stop the anti-vaxxers from harassing and yelling at airport personnel who prevent them from boarding international flights.


  1. Ray de Silva says

    I believe you meant “are now much rarer” rather than “are not much rarer”.

    [Thanks! Corrected. -Mano]

  2. garnetstar says

    I agree. I’ve been looking to how to try to get some kind of vaccine passport or certificate for myself, so that I could maybe travel next year.

    And crazy entitled Americans will throw tempter tantrums when they learn that other countries have these requirements to enter. Because, they’re Americans and no other country has the right to set its own laws!

    Perhaps there could be some large warning on websites that sell tickets about how a vaccine passport is required, and no refunds for your ticket if you book without one. People will still freak out at the gate agents who won’t check them in without both passports, and who won’t refund their money. Will need a lot of security guards.

  3. Bruce says

    In the USA, with no NHS, the biggest problem for vaccine passports is that most such systems presume som common vaccination authorities, each of whom are ready and willing to give electronic verification in a way that such an app can recognize. I only have my cardboard CDC card. How quickly will the Republican legislature (after their non-audit of the 2020 ballots) raise taxes to pay enough to develop and run a system to push this info out to everyone? What about people who got vaccinated at a local clinic? Etc.
    If I fly on British Airways, do I need to go get vaccinated a third and fourth time, but at Walgreens or CVS to get electronic proof? Should we all start getting quadruple vaccinated now, just to go digital? Or will we let airline check-in clerks type in the info on the CDC cards at check-in?

  4. jrkrideau says

    “yellow booklet”

    I got a tetanus update shot about 2 years ago and a new yellow booklet!

    Internally, a vaccination passport may be a matter of discussion but I suspect a lot of countries will demand proof of vaccination. Anyone wanting to visit such a country will have two choices, get vaccinated and documented or stay home. I would not be surprised either if the use of fraudulent -documentation might mean some draconian penalties.

  5. brucegee1962 says

    I also think that the party that used to tout freedom of business and “all regulations are eeeeevil” will crumple up one of the few principles they have left to please their know-nothing base.
    After airlines, the next frontiers will be movie theaters, restaurants, and colleges. Will these be allowed to set their own rules, or will the R busybodies come swooping in and tell them they aren’t allowed to?
    Since I actually believe in the free market that the Republicans claim to love, I will be perfectly happy if one restaurant on the street has a sign that says “You have to show us your vaccine card to walk through our doors,” one restaurant has a vaccinated and non-vaccinated section, and one wants to pretend there is no such thing as covid. I will do my research and make my decision accordingly. But something tells me Republican legislatures won’t be so happy with the first option…

  6. says

    Comparing vaccines to a “star of david” is obscene and laughable.

    Compare them to South Africa’s apartheid-era “papers” that limited movement for certain people, because that’s exactly what happened to Palestinians. Israel has denied (prevented, really) the vaccinations of Palestinians. Barely 5% are vaccinated.

    The lack of vaccine passports has been used to further restrict Palestinian people’s movements. In wealthier countries, the rich and those with affordable health care are the most likely to be vaccinated. The poor, especially in the US with its ludicrous “health care” system, are unlikely to be. The poor are the ones who most desperately need to return to work, and will likely be denied that right (while likely to be punished and cut off from assistance for not working), further exacerbating and criminalizing poverty.

    And that’s just the citizens. What about people who are undocumented? If they attempt to get a vaccination, even if they can afford it, will they be arrested and deported? They have no reason to cooperate with a system that might target them.

  7. Numenaster, whose eyes are up here says

    “What about people who are undocumented? ”

    In my state of Oregon, we have a large migrant labor population and many are undocumented. The state is holding vaccination clinics at farms and is having good success getting vaccines to those who are willing to take them. Vaccine hesitancy is a major issue with this population, even when the vaccine comes to them and doesn’t require showing ID.

  8. mnb0 says

    “But they are still required when traveling to certain countries where yellow fever is endemic.”
    French Guyana is a an example.

    “that will not stop the anti-vaxxers from harassing and yelling at airport personnel”
    They better not try that with the French guards. They have little patience for such nonsense.

  9. jrkrideau says

    @ 9 mnb0
    They better not try that with the French guards.

    Ah but think of to videos (evil grin).

  10. says

    ahcuah @5 -- neither do I and I’m honestly wondering how much longer I can hold out and still be able to function in society. A few weeks ago I went to my bank and for COVID reasons they had a QR code in the window to scan so you can be alerted when it’s your turn to enter. In smaller type, the poster said if you don’t have a smart phone, an employee will be able to help you, except there were no staff members near the door and no way to get anyone’s attention short of banging on the glass. Fortunately there was so much confusion in the line that I was able to just walk in.
    Before that, I was talking to a previous building manager where I live and they were thinking of replacing the door locks into the building with keyless entries using smart phones and I panicked and asked him if keys would still be an option.
    It won’t surprise me if in five to ten years not having a smart phone will no longer be a viable option.

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