After a year of rigorous research and development, the creation of the COVID-19 vaccine has come as a relief to the global population. While the vaccine isn’t yet available to the entire population, certain sections of the population have been administered the vaccine. The existence of the vaccine has brought up the question of how it will impact travellers and what restrictions will destinations impose on individuals who have taken the vaccine. The decision to create a vaccine passport is being cited by experts as a way to store health information thereby allowing travelers to display their immunization records whenever they enter another country or move between states. Will a vaccine passport solve our travel woes that were brought on by the pandemic? Or will it create a new set of hurdles for travellers to overcome as they restart their travel?
What exactly is a vaccine passport?
A vaccine passport essentially allows all travellers to prove that they have been immunised against any contagious virus or infection. This record is presented in the form of paper or a digital document. Vaccine passports are not a new concept, they have been used extensively in the past to help battle the spread of contagious diseases. During the yellow fever several countries in Africa required proof that travelers have received a yellow fever vaccination, written inside an international certificate of vaccination.
In the US and EU, where vaccinations have begun to be administered to many healthcare workers, a card is given that contains information about which vaccine they were administered and any required followup visits. An official vaccine passport on the other hand will work as a digital document/ ID card that airports, employers and hotels would be able to scan an app or QR code that officially informs others if the holder has been vaccinated. As travel slowly adjusts to the new normal, a vaccine passport will help countries keep a track of individuals and their health. They will also help scientists learn about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaccine passports in development
Vaccine passports are not available to the general public yet and are still in developmental stages. A range of private agencies and governmental organizations are working on versions that will emerge in 2021. The World Economic Forum (WEF) has been actively working on CommonPass, a vaccine passport that is being developed in coordination with executives and officials from 52 countries. It is also undergoing trials with international airlines like Cathay Pacific. Aside from WEF, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) is also working on an application. The government of India is developing a smartphone certificate while Israel is working on an app that is expected to roll out in January 2021. IBM is also developing a Digital Health Pass that will allow companies to scan for their requirements of entry.
How will CommonPass function?
The WEF’s CommonPass is being touted as a major tool to help ease travel around the world. The app will allow users to access digital vaccination records from healthcare providers, government registries, or from a personal health record. The data will be displayed on an individual’s phone to decrease the risk of hacking. The app is also engineered to detect the authenticity of records and ensure that they follow all the requirements specified by a country that an individual is travelling to. CommonPass will then generate a QR code that will display a vaccination record with a yes/no, thereby withholding any private information.
What are the possible challenges of the vaccine passport?
Security and privacy remain one of the biggest concerns when it comes to vaccine passports. Immunisation records could reveal information that an individual would like to keep private like your email address, home address, or date of birth. The developers of CommonPass have guaranteed that the app will only use essential personal data after user approval but the risk of hackers and corrupt government agencies always rises. The vaccination database could be accessed for illegal reasons. Further, apps could also be tampered with to display false certificates for people who haven’t got vaccinated.
The fact that the app is digital also raises the question of equal access given that not everyone owns a smartphone. A lot of people could be excluded because of this. Next, the fact that vaccines could vary from country to country could also pose a problem during proof of immunology. Testing the efficacy of vaccines across large populations after they have been administered could take a while. As we continue to learn more information about the COVID-19 virus itself and the vaccine, the long term efficiency of vaccine passports is yet to be seen. Travellers continue to remain concerned about the vaccine and there’s no general consensus about whether proof of having received the coronavirus vaccine should be required to travel.