Vaccine Passports

Vaccine passports are digital documents that are supposed to function as proof that the holder has been vaccinated against Covid-19 and is, therefore, 'safe.' The idea is modelled on the proof of vaccination that several countries required even before the pandemic - travelers 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. Another key function that vaccine passports will perform is that of digitizing vaccination records across countries. 

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. 

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. 

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, and the fact that no common vaccine passport has been designed yet.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) opposed the introduction of Covid-19 vaccination proofs as a requirement for international travel, 'given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.' It also said that preferential vaccination of travelers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe Covid-19 disease, and that the introduction of 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 as there is a possibility that the passports would be used by authorities to track the movement of their holders.

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