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COVID - 19 Vaccine Passport: Do I Need One To Travel?

As over 3 million Americans are vaccinated against COVID-19 each day, there has been much discussion around whether proof of vaccination will be required in the form of a vaccine passport.

What is a vaccine passport?

Like a national passport, a vaccine passport could allow the bearer entrance to a venue or to a foreign country in addition to a visa and a valid national passport. It is proof that a person has been immunized against COVID-19.

Vaccine passports are likely to largely come in the form of verification through a smartphone app and, for those who don’t have a smartphone, a written certificate.

A vaccine passport is not to be mistaken with a vaccination card which are already provided by the US Centres for Disease Control. Such cards can be easily forged and are therefore not a secure alternative to rely on.

Some health experts have argued that such proof of vaccination is a step in the right direction to more normality within the US, enabling individuals to attend large events such as concerts, with the reassurance that those around them have been vaccinated too.

Will I need one in the US?

The White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the government won’t be issuing vaccine passports.

“The government is not now, nor will we be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Psaki told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”

This echos executive orders issued in Texas and Florida which bans vaccine passports. Both states issued similar orders which forbids state agencies, or any entity, from receiving public money for requiring vaccine passports.

In spite of this, Psaki did acknowledge that the private sector are keen to identify ways in which they can return to events involving large numbers of people, with a vaccine passport providing them with an opportunity to solve this issue.

To contrast, New York have already issued a digital vaccine passport using IBM’s Excelsior Pass app that displays a personalized QR code which verifies vaccine status. The pass has been seen as a "a tool to support reopening New York's economy and accelerating the return to pre-pandemic activities" and "a free, fast and secure way to accept proof of COVID-19 vaccination or negative test results to aid compliance with State reopening guidelines." The pass is optional for use by people and businesses, and it can show vaccination status or the status of PCR or antigen testing.

Both Brown and Northeastern Universities have also said that they will require proof of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to return to the campus this fall, alongside several other universities who have issued similar statements.

For travel, some passes are already in use to satisfy testing requirements. CommonPass is being used on all Lufthansa flights from Germany into the U.S., United has also tested this for flights between Newark and London Heathrow. American Airlines is currently using a similar app called VeriFLY on international flights to the U.S. and flights from the U.S. to at least eight different countries.

Will I need one abroad?

Some foreign businesses and countries have been discussing implementing vaccine passports to increase the safety of individuals visiting from abroad.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings plans to resume cruising from U.S. ports from the 4th July and will require vaccinations of both guests and crew, however they have not yet specified whether this means individuals will need a vaccine passport.

There have also been several discussions in the United Kingdom as to whether such passports will be required, with no decision currently being made.

Denmark and Sweden, to contrast, are developing vaccine passports at the moment however are yet to state whether one is required for entry into these countries.

Vaccine Passport Opinions

Not everyone has been favourable of vaccine passports, with a number of people concerned over how their health status will be stored and used.

Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project noted that “Some of these everyday life apps will create a new layer of digital infrastructure that was previously anonymous,". Cahn continued in saying that "You don't need that type of surveillance to pick up a quart of milk from a bodega."

Having banned vaccine passports in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott is also assertive that Americans should not require proof of health status to continue with their day-to-day business.

"Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives," Abbott said in a video posted on Twitter.

Companies hoping to develop such apps and technologies have retorted, saying that they will not store any data.

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York State also commented on privacy concerns around use of the app which they have implemented, promising that they would ensure to “keep personal information secure”.

In spite of this, personal perceptions and theories may dissuade some Americans from embracing the apps, even if they are required for international travel in the near future.

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