With airlines around the world and authorities in Europe adopting vaccination passports, it is only a matter of time before they arrive in Canada. Here is all you need to know about vaccination passports.
What are vaccination passports
A vaccination passport is official documentation showing a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19 or has tested negative for it. It may even show if someone has recovered from it and therefore is immune, as long as the science on that is clear. This information is stored on mobile devices so they can be shown to airline personnel and immigration officials. The expectation is there will be a paper version of it as well. While these would be accessible to more people, they are more open to fraud as well.
Are vaccination passports new?
The term vaccination passport is but the document is not. Similar documents have been around for many years. Anyone who has travelled to a country where vaccination for yellow fever is mandatory will be familiar with the yellow booklets documenting administration of a vaccine.
Who will issue them
At the moment there are multiple authorities and organizations developing them. The hope is that one international standard will be adopted by travel companies and governments alike.
What will vaccination passports be used for
First and foremost, vaccination passports will be used to permit entry to countries and the boarding of aircraft and cruise ships. Even hotels are looking at adopting them. Some countries are even using them to permit attending public events.
What are the advantages of vaccination passports
Vaccination passports will give travellers confidence that everyone on their flight or tour has been vaccinated and that therefore the risk of transmission of COVID19 has been brought to a minimum. In addition, IATA Travel Pass will allow you to scan your passport, add your itinerary as well as vaccination certificate and Covid-19 test result. This will make airport check-in and immigration procedures as smooth as possible and touchless where possible.
Finally, knowing that people who visit your country are a low risk for importing new cases of COVID19, means a host country can safely open up to international travellers carrying a vaccination passport.
Will vaccination passports be used for domestic travel?
The expectation is that the Canadian Government will only use vaccination passports for international arrivals. The private sector may demand them for access to restaurants, events or stadiums, while provincial governments may require them from workers in essential industries and healthcare.
What about privacy
Vaccination passports currently being developed by IATA* and IBM use blockchain technology and the information won’t be stored in a central place.
What about inequality
There is a definite possibility of vaccination passports being discriminatory. Your neighbour may have had their vaccine and is able to go to a restaurant, while you have to stay home. But that will only be temporary as vaccines are generally available for free to anyone who wants them.
The same issue has been raised for international travel as vaccination passports may only be available to people from rich countries. However, the issue is not with vaccination certificates, it is with the unequitable rollout of the vaccination program. In addition, pre-pandemic, it was generally people from well-to-do countries that were able to afford international travel in the first place, so there are no changes there.
The question in travel then becomes: "Should no one use vaccination passports because people who cannot afford to travel do not have access to them?" How would that impact the numbers of people allowed or willing to travel. And what impact would that have on jobs in the travel and tourism industries at home and in host countries?
Different rules for different countries?
There is one caveat: we need to make sure that vaccinated travellers cannot import Covid-19 to their destination so that an unvaccinated host population does not get unduly exposed. Likewise, it has to be clear that vaccinated travellers cannot bring dangerous variants back home. Current data seem to indicate this is the case but the data are preliminary. This is a decision each host country needs to make individually.
What if you cannot take a vaccine
There are people who may not have access to a vaccine, including those with allergies and, currently, children. I have not seen any discussion around this issue but like with yellow fever vaccination requirements, where people with allergies were able to get an exemption, I suspect allowances will be made for people who cannot take a COVID-19 vaccine. The most logical solution would be to allow a valid PCR test taken shortly before travel to stand as an alternative to a vaccine.
When will vaccination passports be available?
IATA Travel Pass can be downloaded from the App Store and the Android version is expected soon. The first-cross border pilots are currently in progress with Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways using them on several flights.
* IATA: the International Air Transport Association, the lobby group of the world's airlines