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What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

TripBlog
Apr 19, 20211,91834

In March, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. National governments scrambled to close their borders and prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from spreading. Now one year on, a patchwork of overlapping restrictions means only the most determined travelers are able to venture abroad. Fortunately, the accelerating rollout of COVID-19 vaccines heralds a return of international travel. Growing numbers of the vaccinated mean governments, civil society, and private enterprises must now confront another challenge. How to relax restrictions while continuing to protect the public and ensuring travelers comply with new vaccine requirements? Enter the "vaccine passport." In this brief primer we’ll help you understand just what is a vaccine passport, how does it function, and where can you expect to need it. This is our explainer on the rise of the COVID-19 vaccine passport.

Table of Contents

Latest Updates
What are vaccine passports and how would they work?
What can you expect with vaccine passports?
Will vaccine passports be digital?
What information will vaccine passports contain?
What about vaccine passports and data security?
Who is developing vaccine passports?
AOKpass
CommonPass
COVID-19 Credentials Initiative (CCI)
Good Health Pass Collaborative
Health Pass by Clear
IATA Travel Pass Initiative
IBM Digital Health Pass
Mvine-iProov Passport
Safe Travel by Affinidi
Scan2Fly
Vaccination Credential Initiative
VaccineGuard
VaxVisa
VeriFLY
What countries plan to require a vaccine passport?
🇪🇺 The European Union 🇪🇺
The African Union
🇧🇭 Bahrain 🇧🇭
🇨🇳 China 🇨🇳
🇫🇷 France 🇫🇷
🇬🇪 Georgia 🇬🇪
🇯🇵 Japan 🇯🇵
🇮🇸 Iceland 🇮🇸
🇮🇱 Israel 🇮🇱
🇸🇬 Singapore 🇸🇬
🇰🇷 South Korea 🇰🇷
🇬🇧 United Kingdom 🇬🇧
🇺🇸 United States 🇺🇸
General Advice

Latest Updates

This section will update as more information on vaccine passports becomes available. To view current travel restrictions and destination-specific requirements for COVID-19 testing and quarantine, visit our new travel policies page.

[2021-04-19 03:59 UTC]

  • French President Emmanuel Macron has announced France will start to lift travel restrictions on vaccinated international travelers from non-EU countries beginning in May. Macron's statement indicates French support for the EU's new COVID-19 credential or "digital green certificate," which was announced by the European Commission and is currently in development.
  • The US State of Hawaii has indicated it plans to push back rollout of quarantine-free travel. Recently, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green said it is now looking like inter-island quarantine-free travel will not rollout until at least mid-May with mainland travel coming maybe a month later.
  • The United Kingdom has announced plans for a traffic-light approach to restarting international travel. Travelers from "green" locations will be able to travel to the UK without the need for quarantine or pre-departure COVID-19 testing. So far, however, the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said it is too soon to speculate on which countries might be included on the initial green list.

[2021-04-14 07:44 UTC]

  • The debate about vaccine passports is becoming increasingly acrimonious. An emerging fault line appears to be where such documents will be required. International travelers are familiar with having to present standard identity passports when crossing borders. Providing an additional piece of information in the form of vaccine status or recent COVID-19 test history does not seem like so much of a stretch in that context. It’s a different story, however, when it comes to governments mandating vaccine credentials for domestic use. Concerns about equity and discrimination loom large in such instances. Resolving such tensions is proving to be quite difficult, particularly in places such as the United States, which is already prone to deep social divides across a wide range of issues.

What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

While it’s true the COVID-19 pandemic is the largest global health emergency in a generation, it is not the first time a novel pathogen has impacted international travel. One need only consider 2002-2004 SARS outbreak for a relatively recent example. A vaccine passport, which is simply a way of proving one has been vaccinated against a particular disease, is not a new concept. Travelers from places where endemic diseases such as yellow fever, measles, or tuberculosis remain prevalent have long been required to demonstrate vaccination before traveling abroad. What makes this time different, however, is the expectation that some form of a vaccine passport will become as ubiquitous as a standard identity passport, and required in much the same way. In order to avoid confusion and the increasingly bitter partisan wrangling that has emerged in places like the United States, it’s instructive to remember the extent to which citizens are already asked to prove their vaccine status. Primary schools and colleges across the global North nearly all require some sort of proof of vaccination against childhood diseases before enrolling students. A COVID-19 vaccine passport will most likely function the same way. It will be simply show the holder has received a vaccine.

What can you expect with vaccine passports?

What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

At this point much remains to be worked out by governments, civil society groups, and travel providers. Whil there are no agreed upon standards, governments and private companies are racing to create proofs of concept. Travelers can be forgiven for feeling a bit lost in the constant stream of information. Here are some of the major issues and challenges standing in the way. At the end of the day, it remains far from clear exactly how (or even if) a COVID-19 vaccine passport will materialize.

Will vaccine passports be digital?

What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

The ubiquity of smart phones and other devices have fueled speculation that a COVID-19 vaccine passport will be an app or other digital document. Travelers might be expected to upload proof of vaccination into their phones or download it from their doctor or vaccine provider. Digital passports, their advocates maintain, provide convenience to both travelers and governments. Travelers could access multiple records such as test results and vaccination certifications in a single environment. Governments would then quickly verify such records by matching them to preapproved testing providers or vaccine administrators. It’s fair to assume some form of a digital vaccine passport will be an option. The question is whether a digital passport will exist alongside paper-based alternatives or if it will supplant them entirely.

What information will vaccine passports contain?

What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

At this stage, there is little consensus regarding what information vaccine passports should contain. At a bare minimum will be the assertion a traveler has received a COVID-19 vaccination. Proposals range from this most basic to complex designs that merge additional health records such as test results and contact tracing information, compare those against current restrictions, and determine whether an individual traveler is approved to enter a particular destination. The lack of widespread and high-level coordination among the various stakeholders has resulted in a proliferation of proposed implementations. At this stage, travelers might expect to be required to obtain destination-specific solutions similar to how many countries now require visitors to get an entry visa prior to travel.

What about vaccine passports and data security?

What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

Every prospective vaccine passport provider touts their security credentials. However, the proof remains very much in the pudding as they say. Current solutions make use of standard encryption tools and blockchain technology to protect sensitive information and prevent unauthorized tampering. Travelers should keep in mind that the data security challenges surrounding vaccine passports are essentially twofold. On the one hand, travelers need to be sure their information is protected and accessible only by those with authorized access. On the other hand, governments need to know information contained in a vaccine passport is accurate, reliable, and tamperproof. Cybersecurity experts are warning of an alarming rise in fake vaccine credentials for sale on the so-called dark web, a network of hidden websites and services accessible only through specific browser tools. Researchers at the cybersecurity company Check Point have reported a dramatic rise in the number of listings offering vaccines or fake vaccine credentials. Check Point researchers point to this growing trend as further evidence of the need to develop an agreed upon and enforceable verification standard underlying vaccine passports.

What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

Overcoming these challenges involves an inevitable tradeoff between security and convenience. Increased data security likely means reduced portability and vice versa. Travelers should be aware of this tradeoff and also know that data security claims are essentially marketing spin unless accompanied by robust and meaningful scrutiny, preferably by outside experts. Here are a few questions to keep in mind. Are the data contained in a vaccine passport protected both "in transit" and "at rest"? Is a traveler’s information ever transmitted to or stored by vaccine passport providers? What safeguards are in place to ensure data, once entered, cannot be altered unless intended? Will travelers be able to delete or transfer their data?

Who is developing vaccine passports?

What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

A growing number of providers have either begun active development of a vaccine passport or indicated their intention to do so. The following list provides a representative sample. It relies on claims made by providers themselves so standard caveats apply.

AOKpass

AOKpass offers to provide "a digitally authenticated, secure and portable copy of your medical records." After receiving test results from their healthcare provider, AOKpass users will be able to manually enter their information, which is then secured by AOKpass and available for use while traveling.

CommonPass

CommonPass aims to provide "a trusted, globally-interoperable platform for people to document their COVID-19 status (health declarations / PCR tests / vaccinations) to satisfy country entry requirements, while protecting their health data privacy." CommonPass plans assess health records based on current travel requirements and help travelers easily confirm their COVID-19 status.

COVID-19 Credentials Initiative (CCI)

The CCI is a member of the Linux Foundation Public Health (LFPH) and it aims "deploy and/or help deploy privacy-preserving verifiable credential projects in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and strengthen our societies and economies." The CCI claims to "adopt an open-standard-based open-source development approach to public health, which has been proven very effective and efficient with LFPH's work in exposure notification apps."

Good Health Pass Collaborative

The Good Health Pass Collaborative bills itself as an "open, inclusive, cross-sector initiative, bringing together leading companies and organizations from the technology, health, and travel sectors." Their aim is to create "a blueprint for interoperable digital health pass systems" that will help "restore international travel and restart the global economy." Less a single pass, the collaborative is an effort to coordinate multiple stakeholders in developing a set of best practices.

Health Pass by Clear

The Health Pass platform envisions integrating lab results, vaccine validation, and real-time health survey data to offer a solution aimed at both travel and venue access. With Clear kiosks at airports and venues, travelers could access their records directly using biometric identify verification or through an app-based system.

IATA Travel Pass Initiative

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass envisions "informing passengers on what tests, vaccines and other measures they require prior to travel." Travelers will then be able to share test and vaccination results in a “verifiable, safe and privacy-protecting manner.”

IBM Digital Health Pass

IBM’s Digital Health Pass "is designed to provide organizations with a smart way to bring people back to a physical location, such as a workplace, school, stadium, or airline flight. Built on IBM Blockchain technology, the solution is designed to enable organizations to verify health credentials for employees, customers and visitors entering their site based on criteria specified by the organization."

Mvine-iProov Passport

According to the companies, "the Mvine-iProov passport enables a person’s test result or vaccination status to be registered and proved without disclosing their identity, and without the need for extensive new infrastructure." It is largely designed to integrate with existing healthcare infrastructure in the United Kingdom.

Safe Travel by Affinidi

Safe Travel claims their "verifiable QR technology gives you a seamless travel experience while preserving your privacy." The system is designed to work by directing travelers to partner testing providers whose results can be uploaded directly into the Safe Travel ecosystem and used during check-in.

Scan2Fly

Developed by AirAsia, "Scan2Fly is an AI-based feature that allows you to upload your documents…like a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test certificate or SafeTravel Pass. This feature takes just a few seconds to analyze your document(s) validity and determine your travel eligibility."

Vaccination Credential Initiative

Less a consumer-oriented product, the Vaccination Credential Initiative wants to "enable individuals to access a trustworthy and verifiable copy of their vaccination records in digital or paper form." The effort aims to reduce global inequities by allowing those without access to digital solutions to "receive papers printed with QR codes containing W3C verifiable credentials."

VaccineGuard

VaccineGuard attempts to include "vaccine manufacturers, hospitals, public health authorities, certificate providers, wellness app providers, citizens, border guards, vaccination program managers, and insurance companies" in order enable them to "share data and verify its authenticity across organizational boundaries and international borders."

VaxVisa

VaxVisa says they do not intend to create an "immunity passport." Rather, they envision VaxVisa as an "evidence based technology solution designed to present digital copies of vaccination and test results to your personal device. … [VaxVisa] provides the digital evidence, secure personal storage, transport and sharing of vaccinations and laboratory test results."

VeriFLY

VeriFLY claims their "adaptable, real-time digital credentials allow users seamless, touch-free transactions." Users can input different information such as "proof of age, business membership, citizenship, health status, travel reservations," etc.

What countries plan to require a vaccine passport?

A growing number of countries have announced plans to support at least some aspects of a vaccine passport. Those destinations that now allow vaccinated travelers require varying degrees of proof and confirmation of vaccination. Some places have begun offering vaccinated travelers the option to skip pre-departure testing and quarantine requirements, which helps to remove a significant impediment to travel.

🇪🇺 The European Union 🇪🇺

On March 17, 2021, the European Commission announced plans to create a "Digital Green Certificate." The proposal, which still requires approval from EU Member States and the European Parliament, is expected to roll out in time for the summer travel season. Digital Green Certificates will allow travelers to prove they either have been vaccinated against COVID-19 with an EU-approved vaccine, received a negative test result, or have recovered from a previous COVID-19 infection. According to the Commission's proposal, certificates will be QR-code based, available in digital or paper formats, and free of charge. The hope is to significantly reduce the barriers to travel within the bloc while also allowing tourism-heavy economies such as Cyprus 🇨🇾, Greece 🇬🇷, Malta 🇲🇹, Portugal 🇵🇹, and Spain 🇪🇸 to once again welcome travelers from non-EU countries.

The African Union

The African Union Commission and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have announced plans to launch a "#TrustedTravel My COVID Pass" to facilitate travel on the African continent. Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways both intend to roll out support for the new system, which will work with a network of testing providers and labs to provide verifiable and trusted test results to travelers. The system aims to simplify document verification for cross-border travelers in Africa.

🇧🇭 Bahrain 🇧🇭

The Persian Gulf Monarchy recently released the "BeAware Bahrain" mobile application that serves as a single point of access for residents and travelers. The app offers contact tracing features, monitoring of persons in self-isolation or quarantine, and the ability to locate and book appointments with COVID-19 testing providers.

🇨🇳 China 🇨🇳

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently announced plans to partner with Beijing-based Tencent Holdings to integrate an electronic document verification system into the company’s WeChat messaging application. Widely used in China, authorities hope to expand coverage and to partner with regional destinations such as Singapore and Thailand, both of which are popular with Chinese travelers. Additionally, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that beginning March 15, 2021, China will relax restrictions on visa processing for foreign nationals who can prove they were vaccinated with a Chinese vaccine.

🇫🇷 France 🇫🇷

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced France will start to lift travel restrictions on vaccinated international travelers from non-EU countries beginning in May, 2021. Macron's statement indicates French support for the EU's new COVID-19 credential or "digital green certificate," which was announced by the European Commission and is currently in development.

🇬🇪 Georgia 🇬🇪

Starting on February 1, 2021, Georgia began welcoming vaccinated travelers. The popular destination in the Caucasus Mountains now allows anyone arriving by air to enter provided they can show they’ve completed a full WHO-approved COVID-19 vaccination regimen.

🇯🇵 Japan 🇯🇵

Japan has affirmatively announced plans to launch a vaccine passport. Authorities expect the system will integrate with existing tools that track the progress and rollout of Japan's vaccination program. The app will be focused on Japanese citizens who travel abroad and foreigners in Japan who want to return to their home countries. It is expected Japan's system will allow travelers to demonstrate both their vaccination status as well as recent COVID-19 test result information.

🇮🇸 Iceland 🇮🇸

The Icelandic government announced that beginning March 18, 2021, anyone who has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will be allowed to travel to Iceland without the need for testing and quarantine. In order to qualify, travelers must have been vaccinated with a vaccine certified for use by the European Medical Agency and Icelandic authorities. Alternatively, travelers who carry an International Certificate of Vaccination from the World Health Organization (WHO) showing vaccination with a WHO-approved vaccine will also be allowed to enter Iceland without the need for testing and quarantine.

🇮🇱 Israel 🇮🇱

As an earlier global leader in vaccine administration, Israel plans to roll out a "Green Pass" that will help facilitate travel and access to domestic facilities such as restaurants, night clubs, and sporting venues. Hoping to incentivize continued vaccine acceptance among its population, the Israeli government hopes the new pass will convince skeptical Israelis to get vaccinated.

🇸🇬 Singapore 🇸🇬

Singapore has been a pioneer in developing procedures to allow a resumption of travel. With many services already available via the country’s Singpass mobile application, the government has announced plans to integrate COVID-19 testing and vaccination information using a standards-based system called "HealthCerts." Singapore has announced that beginning May 1, 2021, travelers arriving by air will be able to use the COVID-19 Travel Pass developed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in order to show proof of recent negative test results.

🇰🇷 South Korea 🇰🇷

South Korean Prime Minister, Chung Sye-kyun, announced South Korea will join the growing number of countries to issue some form of a vaccine passport. The mobile app-based technology will allow travelers to South Korea to prove they have been vaccinated. According to the government's statement, the app will incorporate blockchain technology to secure credentials and prevent counterfeiting. It is expected to launch later in April.

🇬🇧 United Kingdom 🇬🇧

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the country plans to continue loosening domestic restrictions given the pace of vaccinations. So far Johnson has ruled out requiring small businesses verify proof of vaccination; however, Britons maybe be required to show proof in order to attend larger events such as the FA Cup final scheduled for May 15, 2021, at Wembley Stadium in London. The UK has also announced plans for a traffic-light approach to restarting international travel. Travelers from "green" locations will be able to travel to the UK without the need for quarantine or pre-departure COVID-19 testing. So far, however, the government has said it is too soon to speculate on which countries might be included on the initial green list.

🇺🇸 United States 🇺🇸

Vaccine deployment in the United States is racing ahead. The country has administered over 148 million doses, by far the most in the world. The pace of vaccine rollout has accelerated calls for developing some sort of vaccine passport or health credential for use during travel or for access to cultural and entertainment venues. The State of Hawaii plans to have a system in place by May and the State of New York is expanding rollout of its so-called Excelsior Pass, which was tested at professional sports games at the Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden. Excelsior Pass is expected to expand to other arts, entertainment, and event venues, and to allow users to access such venues with a recent COVID-19 test result or proof of vaccination. Florida, Missouri, and Texas, however, have all announced plans to prohibit the use of vaccine passports. More states may follow suit as COVID-19 in the United States remains a hot button political issue.

General Advice

What are vaccine passports and how would they work?

View The Latest Policies >>

COVID-19 vaccine passports represent an important step towards the resumption of international travel. As our long pandemic year continues to grind on, travelers can at least take heart that efforts are well underway to allow for the return of something approaching normal life. The best advice now is to stay the course, keep doing things to protect yourself and others, and get vaccinated if you’re willing and able to do so. Remember, unless everyone is protected, no one is protected.

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