This Is What You Need To Know About the Inevitable ‘Vaccine Passports’

Photo: Getty Images /Izusek / W+G Creative
As the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines ramps up around the world, a new type of passport may soon be required for travel. New York State's Excelsior Pass is the first of its kind, providing digital proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results. On a grander scale, the United States is currently developing a national version while countries like Japan, China, and Denmark have already made digital vaccine passports available to download to your phone.

Prior to the pandemic, compulsory vaccination in the U.S. only existed within schools and hospitals, but vaccine passports are meant to ensure only vaccinated people gain entry into everything from a concert venue to another country. That said, the idea of vaccine passports still raises plenty of questions.

Vaccine Passport FAQs

1. Are vaccine passports mandatory?

It depends on where you want to go. Although the Biden administration is working on a vaccine passport system, it continues to stress that vaccination is not mandated at a federal level. However, countries like Georgia and Seychelles have opened their borders only to fully vaccinated (meaning it's been 14 days since their final dose) travelers. United Kingdom cruise line Saga requires guests to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before they come aboard. New York City's Madison Square Garden requires fans either to present a negative COVID-19 test or to provide proof of vaccination. While the U.S. government has not expressed plans to make vaccination mandatory, travel and event restrictions show that life will begin to feel normal sooner for those who are fully vaccinated.

2. Where does the information come from?

Vaccination records will be supplied by government health agencies. For example, with New York State's Excelsior Pass, residents enter their name, date of birth, and zip code to acquire proof of vaccination, a negative result from a PCR test in the last three days, or a negative antigen test results in the last six hours. Because the pass is provided by the government, it is much more difficult to make fraudulent passes.

3. Is my information secure?

Security is top of mind for companies developing the tech for vaccine passports. The International Air Transport Association and International Business Machines Corp (IBM) say their passes employ blockchain technology, meaning information is able to be transferred without a middleman so your data is not shared or stored.

However, some people may still be deterred by privacy concerns.

“When it comes down to it, people are going to ask themselves: Is sharing sensitive information worth the trade-off for a leisure trip?” says Stephen Beck, managing partner at cg42, reports USA Today. “And for many, the answer will be no."

4. Are vaccine passports digital-only?

The benefit of digital vaccine passports is that they can't be misplaced and can always be accessed so long as you have internet access However, that doesn't mean that other forms of proof aren't eligible. Paper proof of vaccination or COVID-19 test results is also valid. Additionally, programs like Excelsior Pass allow you to print or screenshot your passport and also save it in the Excelsior Pass mobile app.

5. Are vaccine passports fair?

As many countries continue to ban undocumented foreign travelers, some worry that these restrictions would benefit wealthier nations that are further along in their vaccine rollouts. For example, 43 out of every 100 U.S. citizens has been vaccinated compared to 0.2 per 100 people in Iran, shows data analyzed by The New York Times.

“At the present time the use of certification of vaccination as a requirement for travel is not advised because quite simply vaccination is just not available enough around the world and is not available certainly on an equitable basis,” says Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s health-emergencies program, according to Fast Company.

Listen to a biochemist explain how vaccines work:

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