‘Vaccine Passports’ Could Reopen Global Travel—And Lead To Discrimination, Critics Say

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Siladitya Ray   Forbes U.S. Staff

‘Vaccine Passports’ Could Reopen Global Travel—And Lead To Discrimination, Critics Say

Photo: Ross Parmly /Unsplash

As Governments around the world attempt to reopen travel and kickstart their economies many are looking at so-called “vaccine passports” or “green travel passes” that could allow people who have been inoculated against Covid-19 to travel safely once again, but critics worry that mandating such passes for all travel could discriminate against those who don’t yet have access to a vaccine.


- There isn’t yet a unified idea on how such a travel pass will work but the most popular approaches involve the use of a smartphone app that would carry a passenger’s immunization details which can then be checked before boarding.

- The airline industry’s trade body, International Air Transport Association (IATA), has developed a system called the ‘Travel Pass’ which will give passengers information about what tests and vaccines they need to enter their destination and also be able to receive verified test results or vaccination certificates directly from participating health providers.

- The U.K. government is examining the idea of vaccine passes that will open people up to access travel, hospitality and entertainment events and technology companies like iProov and Mvine have developed digital systems that are being tested within Britain's National Health Service, Bloomberg reported.

- The European Union is set to reveal a proposed “digital green certificate” on Wednesday that could allow people traveling within the block to skip restrictions if they have been fully vaccinated.

- Clear, which runs a trusted-traveler program for fliers in the U.S., is trialing an app that carries vaccination or Covid-19 testing details of passengers on some flights into Hawaii as part of a pilot program with the state.

- Vaccine passports may not be just limited to travel, as live event ticketing giant Ticketmaster has said it is examining options for event organizers who may want to require attendees to present proof of inoculation and it may allow ticket-holders to link their vaccine record to their digital ticket.


Critics of vaccine travel passes have expressed concern over privacy and the discriminatory impact of such a system due to the unequal rollout of vaccines. Liberty, the U.K.’s largest civil liberties organization, said in a press release last month. “These so-called passports claim they would ensure those who can prove they have coronavirus immunity can start to return to normal life. Which raises the question — what happens to everyone else?” (In January, WHO officials said governments should “not introduce requirements of proof of vaccination or immunity for international travel as a condition of entry” at present.) The group also warned, “One thing every suggestion has missed is that it’s impossible to have immunity passports which do not result in human rights abuses.”


The fragmented approach may prevent easy interoperability between different systems in different countries, defeating the purpose of a vaccine passport. Also: Not all vaccines are approved in the same countries. China has resumed visa processing for foreigners from some countries, but will only allow them to come in if they have been inoculated with a Chinese-made vaccine. According to a Politico report EU’s proposed digital pass system primarily covers EU-approved COVID-19 vaccines, but the bloc will allow members to accept the entry of those inoculated with the Russian or Chinese vaccines if they decide to do so. Similarly, the U.S. could face a dilemma with the foreign vaccines that have not yet been approved domestically, including the WHO-backed AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. 


Those working on vaccine passes are aware that developing a system that works globally will be a challenge. Drummond Reed, chief trust officer for Evernym which has been working with I.A.T.A. and others, told the New York Times, “The global passport system took 50 years to develop... Now, in a very short period of time, we need to produce a digital credential that can be as universally recognized as a passport and it needs an even greater level of privacy because it’s going to be digital.”


Some concern has been raised that a vaccine pass system could become permanent. . André Rogaczewski, the CEO of Netcompany, which has received funding from the U.K. government to build a testing certification system, told the Financial Times that he believes the vaccine and testing certification systems should only be used in the short-term and “should die in due course.” How long such a system lasts may depend on how long vaccinating the world might take. A report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit in January projected that while developed countries may be able to vaccinate their entire adult population by 2022 some low-income countries may have to wait until 2024.


U.S. President Joe Biden has promised access to vaccines for every adult in America by mid-May and his national coronavirus pandemic strategy also includes a directive for multiple government agencies to “assess the feasibility” of linking Covid shots to international vaccination certificates and producing digital versions of them. It is unclear if the Biden government will seek a unified federal approach to a vaccine pass system or rely on private entities to establish their own procedures instead.

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Siladitya Ray   Forbes U.S. Staff

I am a Breaking News Reporter at Forbes, with a focus on covering important tech policy and business news. Graduated from Columbia University with an MA in Business and Economics Journalism in 2019. Worked as a journalist in New Delhi, India from 2014 to 2018.