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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Explained: What are vaccine passports? Will we need them soon?

Vaccine passport: The idea is modelled on the proof of vaccination that several countries required even before the pandemic.

Written by Pranav Mukul | New Delhi |
Updated: March 18, 2021 11:23:30 am
vaccine passport, what is vaccine passport, vaccine passport explained, countries with vaccine passport, coronavirus vaccine passport, indian expressIsrael is the first country to introduce vaccine passports (Illustration: Suvajit Dey)

Last month, Israel became the first country to introduce a certification system that allows those who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 to access certain facilities and events.

Vaccination against the novel coronavirus has been considered to be the inflection point at which life would start to get back to normal. Israel’s “vaccine passport” is meant for public facilities such as restaurants, gyms, and hotels in the country — but certification of this kind has a bearing on the full resumption of international air travel as well.

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What are vaccine passports?

The idea is modelled on the proof of vaccination that several countries required even before the pandemic. Travellers from many African countries to the US or India are required to submit proof that they have been vaccinated against diseases such as yellow fever.

Even though the nomenclature comes from passports, most vaccine passports have been envisaged as digital documents. They are supposed to function as proof that the holder has been vaccinated against Covid-19 and is, therefore, “safe”.

Another key function that vaccine passports will perform is that of digitising vaccination records across countries. While some countries have begun accepting proofs of vaccination to bypass quarantine norms, a common and universally accepted version of vaccine passport is yet to emerge.

What vaccine passports do we have now?

In addition to those like the ones issued by the Israeli government, several associations and non-profits have been issuing their own versions for international travel.

The International Air Transport Association — the global trade body representing airlines — is developing an app called IATA Travel Pass that will provide airlines and other aviation industry stakeholders with a common platform to check for the proof of vaccination and its validity.

Non-profit Commons Project has been trying out an app called CommonPass, which contains a passenger’s vaccination record.

According to a report in The Washington Post, passengers have been using CommonPass for testing verification on select flights out of New York, Boston, London, and Hong Kong with United, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss International and Virgin Atlantic since December. Prior to that, trials were conducted for United and Cathay Pacific flights to London, New York, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

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Whom will vaccine passports help?

The primary benefit will be to the tourism and the hospitality industries, which are both seen as being at the heart of Covid-19 spread and are the worst hit by the pandemic. This includes international air travel, which suffered massively because of the outbreak. However, a major difficulty in implementation will be the lack of uniformity across jurisdictions in requirement and issuance of proofs of vaccination.

Are there any concerns about having vaccine passports instituted?

In an interim position paper on vaccine passports, the World Health Organisation (WHO) last month batted against the introduction of Covid-19 vaccination proofs as a requirement for international travel.

“…At the present time, it is WHO’s position that national authorities and conveyance operators should not introduce requirements of proof of Covid-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry, given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.

“In addition, considering that there is limited availability of vaccines, preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe Covid-19 disease,” it said.

“In the current context”, the WHO said, “introducing a requirement of vaccination as a condition for travel has the potential to hinder equitable global access to a limited vaccine supply and would be unlikely to maximize the benefits of vaccination for individual societies and overall global health”.

In addition, several experts have raised privacy concerns. Given that these are mainly digital certificates that are accessed by a particular service provider to check for proof of vaccination, there is a possibility that they would be used by authorities to track the movement of their holders.

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