Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you probably have heard lots of news lately around “vaccine passports” and travel policies. Some countries are likely to make vaccine passports something of a requirement to enter.
Others may not. But let’s back up. First of all, what are vaccine passports?
What exactly is a vaccine passport?
Very simply, a vaccine passport is your vaccination record. Most vaccine passports (in development and already available for use) exist in the form of an app you download onto your smartphone. Any vaccine passport stored on your phone will also protect your private information, we are told. Such a “pass” allows you to quickly show immigration and customs officials at airports and train stations across the globe your “fully vaccinated” status and permits you to move freely about the world.
Will I need a vaccine passport to travel in the United States?
The answer here seems pretty clear at this point. The Biden Administration has signaled it will not make vaccine passports mandatory, but also has left room for individual states and jurisdictions to make their own policies and procedures around vaccination. Some states like Hawaii still require quarantine and testing before allowing entry, while others like Florida are wide open for business – no restrictions at all.
In addition, the CDC just issued guidance for the fully vaccinated, indicating that it’s safe for you to return to travel once you’re two weeks out from your final injection. The unvaccinated should continue to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test where required, but the CDC still recommends taking a test before and after you return from travel, regardless of requirements as a matter of public health and preventing community spread. In any event, the lack of a vaccine passport will not be a barrier to domestic travel.
Will I need a vaccine passport for international travel?
The short answer is that it’s likely to be something like a “fast pass” to entry for some countries or regions (like the European Union). There are already many vaccinations required for a variety of international destinations, and setting U.S. politics aside, many countries outside the U.S. that have managed their COVID-19 infection rates are eager to keep those numbers down. These countries see vaccine passports as a quick and easy way to verify those who are of very low risk of transmission.
Still, there’s a lot of discussion underway at the moment, including ethical considerations of requiring a vaccine passport. Should the E.U. adopt a universal passport (as it seems likely to do), people who have it can essentially jump the queue and avoid having to provide a negative test or quarantine for a prescribed number of days.
There are plans for vaccine passports to be utilized at events that could potentially develop into “superspreader” events, like festivals, concerts and other large-scale gatherings. There’s even been signals from some in the hotel and restaurant industries to indicate that some businesses might also require a vaccine passport for customers. This could potentially pose a problem for a traveler who did not get vaccinated, chose to quarantine and test upon arrival to a country, but then finds their dining or sightseeing options limited by private venues that might decide to require a vaccination for entrance. This aspect of the debate is spirited and ongoing.
How do I get a vaccine passport?
Right now a lot of vaccine passports are still in development or being piloted and tested. Here is a short roundup of the various vaccine passports in development right now that will be available to American travelers shortly.
IATA Travel Pass
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) developed Travel Pass, a digital passport that allows you to store and manage your COVID-19 test results or vaccine records on an app that you link to on your smartphone. Travel Pass should be available for iPhone and Android in mid-April.
CLEAR Health Pass
CLEAR’s Health Pass will allow you to securely link to your healthcare account to confirm your vaccine records. CLEAR has partnered with Walmart to give travelers who have received a COVID vaccine at Walmart or Sam’s Club easy access to their vaccination records.
CommonPass is a platform that gives you access to your COVID-related documents and status, including PCR test results and vaccination status. It will show a simple yes or no as to whether a traveler meets the current entry criteria of the country they are traveling to. CommonPass is currently being piloted in specific markets and has partnered with Walmart and Sam’s Club customers. You can sign up on their website via email to receive news of expansion.
American Airlines now offers you free access to VeriFLY, a mobile health passport that can be used when traveling on an international flight to the U.S. and on domestic flights to eight countries, including the UK and Canada, as long as you are a ticketed passenger with them.
As you can see, the topic of vaccine passports is fast-moving, with lots of moving parts and critical implications for travelers. We will keep you updated as we hear of new developments. Until then, how do you feel about the idea of vaccine passports? Do you think it’s a good idea that will help people get back to travel sooner, or are you on the fence or even against them and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.