Will you need a COVID-19 'vaccine passport' to travel? Here's what they are and how they might work


Airlines and others in the travel industry are throwing their support behind so-called vaccine passports to boost pandemic-depressed travel, and authorities in Europe could embrace the idea quickly enough for the peak summer vacation season. Technology companies and travel-related trade groups are developing and testing various versions of the vaccine passports, also called health certificates or travel passes. It is not clear, however, whether any of the passports under development will be accepted broadly around the world, and the result could be confusion among travelers and disappointment for the travel industry. Here are some key questions about the health credentials. 'We got bored and wanted to go on a trip':Tales from a pandemic spring break in Cancun, Mexico White House:Vaccine passports should be free, private and secure. But who will be issuing them? What is a vaccine passport? It is documentation that shows a traveler has been vaccinated against COVID-19 or recently tested negative for the virus that causes the disease. The information is stored on a phone or other mobile device that the user shows to airline employees and border officers. The Biden administration and others want a paper version available, too. Who is designing them? The trade group for global airlines, the International Air Transport Association, is testing a version it calls Travel Pass. IBM is developing another, called a Digital Health Pass. There are several other private-sector initiatives.Some countries are getting involved and using the passports beyond air travel. Israel is using a new “green passport” to ensure that only people who have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 can attend public events such as concerts. Denmark expects to launch a pass that will let vaccinated people travel with fewer restrictions. Why do travel companies want vaccine passports? International air travel has collapsed during the pandemic as countries imposed restrictions such as quarantines or outright bans to curb the spread of the virus. Airlines are counting on vaccine passports to persuade governments to drop some of those restrictions.“The significance of this to restarting international aviation cannot be overstated,” said Alexandre de Juniac, CEO of the airline trade group. Operators of hotels that depend on international visitors are also eager to see the passes adopted. The airline trade group tested its app last week on a Singapore Airlines flight to London. A passenger put a digital version of his passport, coronavirus test results and travel restrictions at his destination on a mobile device. Where would vaccine passports be required? Vaccine passports would be most common on international flights. Some countries already require proof of vaccination for diseases such as yellow fever, and the United States now requires a negative coronavirus test to enter the country, so a digital health passport isn’t much of a leap. What are the risks of a vaccine passport program? The available COVID-19 vaccines are most effective at preventing serious illness, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility that vaccinated travelers could still spread the virus. “I think we have enough evidence right now to say that these vaccines cut transmission, that vaccinated people are much less likely to transmit the disease,” says Ashish Jha, dean of the public health school at Brown University. “How much? We don’t know.” He estimates it’s about 80%. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against travel even as the agency has relaxed other guidelines for people who have been vaccinated. New CDC guidelines for vaccinated people: Agency still advises against travel

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