As vaccination is well underway globally, health and technology groups are working together to create a digital vaccination passport in the expectation that governments, airlines and other businesses will require proof people have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Currently, the International Air Transport Association is trialling a digital passport, linked to electronic passenger information, that allows border authorities to check if a passenger has been vaccinated. Then there is also the Vaccination Credential Initiative, a coalition of organisations including Microsoft, Oracle and the US healthcare non-profit Mayo Clinic, which is working to establish standards to verify if a person has had a vaccine and to stop people falsely claiming to be protected against the disease.
It is not yet known how this passport system will work across the board, as it is likely that countries will want to set their own rules. However, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar announced recently that it will be introduced in Ireland. He said that passengers will be given a document with a QR code on it, which will prove they’ve been vaccinated against coronavirus and allow them to travel freely without having to quarantine or self-isolate.
The idea of vaccination passports has been floating around since last year, as many countries are eager to open up their economies, including the tourism sector, and return to normal as more people get vaccinated.
However, not everyone is in support of a vaccination passport. 75% of Americans think it is a good idea; 68% of Britons are of the same mind. The percentage of Germans who support the notion of vaccine passports falls to 46%; the figure for French people is 42%. The Tourism Ireland research suggests that a further 31% of French people think mandatory vaccinations for travel purposes are a poor idea.
Privacy is a big issue for some.The European Commission has said any system will be “in full compliance with EU data protection law”, but many people will inevitably have concerns that any system that insists on vaccines for international travel are a gross intrusion into their privacy. And it is pretty certain that big tech’s involvement in developing vaccine-passport systems is going to alarm some people.
Some countries have already begun their rollout of vaccination passports. Iceland was the first European country to give vaccination certs to citizens who had been given two doses of the vaccine last month. It also recognises similar certs issued by other EU countries. Denmark and Sweden are rolling them out too, while Spain is keen.
However, despite the controversy, vaccination passports are not a new idea. Many countries insist on proof of vaccination for a range of diseases. Many people will be familiar with the little yellow vaccination booklet, detailing inoculations, that is an entry requirement for some countries. Anyone looking to travel to parts of Africa, for example, has to prove they have been vaccinated against yellow fever before they are allowed to board planes, and the rules are rigidly enforced.