Will the Vaccine Passport Become Summer's Hottest Accessory?

Lauren Wicks
·7 min read
Photo credit: ArtistGNDphotography - Getty Images
Photo credit: ArtistGNDphotography - Getty Images

After more than a year of working, schooling, and dining from home, there's nothing we're craving more than jet-setting to a luxurious, international getaway. While the ability to safely travel across the globe again feels equally so close and yet still so far away in the early second-quarter of 2021, some companies are attempting to streamline the process through the production of "vaccine passports" in the U.S.

Sure to become a hot commodity for vaccinated travelers seeking refuge this summer—and beyond—in other countries, as well as for greater ease in domestic travel, we're anticipating these items to become more widely available in the coming weeks and months as other countries are rolling out vaccine passports of their own. However, there is a growing amount of criticism against these vaccine passports, due to beliefs that they will infringe on one's privacy and ability to travel if they do not want to be vaccinated against the virus that causes COVID-19. There are also concerns regarding a lack of equity for those who have yet to be eligible for the vaccine and that people of all ages and backgrounds may not be able to obtain a vaccine passport. Here's what you need to know to make the decision for yourself.

What is a Vaccine Passport and How Does It Work?

A vaccine passport is less of a standard passport booklet and more of a digitized version of proof of vaccination, though there are some physical options. Many believe the term "passport" can be misleading, as you will not need to keep track of another booklet or other physical material unless you'd like to purchase one.

Those who have been vaccinated already know that all one currently has for proof of vaccination is a little white card that can easily be misplaced or lost. Vaccine passports offer QR codes that could be stored in your smartphone's digital "wallet," also often on a smartphone app to be scanned for entry. Pharmacies, state health departments, and health system have this information and will verify your status, and you will also have to show proof of identification. From there, your personal QR code can be scanned as you enter a venue, event, or as you travel.

Types of Vaccine Passports—and How to Get Them

The state of New York has already issued the Excelsior Pass for its residents, which offers a free, streamlined way to present digital proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result that can be stored on the Excelsior Pass Wallet app, so you don't have to worry about losing your little white card. Businesses and venues are the able to scan the QR code from the app to make sure you meet requirements for patronizing or attending. You will also need to provide a photo ID for verification and will still be expected to follow state and CDC guidelines for social distancing. New Yorkers can obtain a pass at least 14 days after their final vaccine, at least three days after receiving a negative PCR test, and at least six hours after receiving a negative result for an antigen test—all which must have been administered by the state of New York.

Other "vaccine passports" are thinking bigger in terms of widespread travel, especially for international destinations. CommonPass, created in partnership with non-profit organization The Commons Project and The World Economic Forum, is currently being tested on one international flight each for JetBlue and United, while being used on all flights between Germany and the U.S. but strictly on a volunteer basis. The pass is available for free on the App Store and Google Play to use for gaining access to your lab results and vaccination records from authorized providers, and once your health status is validated, a QR code is generated to show when you are traveling or attending certain events or locations.

VeriFly has become a frequently used option for American Airlines on flights from other countries into the U.S. as well as from the U.S. to select destinations in the Caribbean, Central America, Canada, and South America. Obtaining a VeriFly vaccine passport requires one to download their free app to register where they can add and remove various passes, and verify their credentials to receive a unique QR code.

VAX Passbook has recently launched a domestic vaccine passport in partnership with World Health Access and is also launching an international offering on April 17—both enabled with privacy-trusted verification. One has to first register for an account on the VAX Passbook site, create a profile, and then can choose from different packages that include: a digitized proof of vaccination on their app, a physical passbook, and a wallet-sized card to have multiple ways to show proof of vaccination. The cost for the passbook is $75, as the site states it is "the first, one, and only secure global vaccination passport" for those who are ready to book international travel.

It's important to note that multiple vaccine passports on the market can also be issued for those who aren't vaccinated but want to ensure a streamlined entrance to businesses, venues, or other events after receiving a negative PCR or antigen test. You don't have to have the vaccine at the time of purchase or download for most options. Additionally, there are several other already-launched and emerging vaccine passport types out there, so do your research to find the one that works the best with your life and travel style, if you are interested in obtaining one.

Vaccine Passport Criticism

Inventor Isaac S. Daniel, who created VAX Passbook with World Health Access, was actually working with the federal government in 2020 to help bring this idea of a vaccine passport to Americans, as other countries, like Israel, where its GreenPass is currently in use, or the U.K., Thailand, and the EU, who are trialing and developing vaccine passports of their own. It didn't take long for these passports to become politicized, however, leading to the federal government to step back from being involved with these items.

Many critics of vaccine passports say that they infringe on our rights to privacy as Americans, expressing concern over how their health status is stored or used—as well as over one's right to not be vaccinated. Critics say they do not want to see the emergence of new classes of Americans: those who are vaccinated and those who are not. Some who oppose vaccine passports also feel that they highlight the inequity in the country right now, as vaccination isn't yet obtainable or easily accessible for all ages and backgrounds just yet.

No, You Don't Have to Have a Vaccine Passport to Travel

As vaccine passports are being invented, trialed, and implemented in various countries and businesses around the world, many have wondered if they will become mandatory for travel and event attendance in the U.S. and beyond. However, the White House has stated that is not the case, at least in domestic terms.

"The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential," White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki said at a press briefing on April 6. "There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential. Psaki went onto say that the ideation for the vaccine passport came from the private sector's identification of ways to create a speedier and more streamlined return to events and activities, and they "expect that's where it will be concluded."

The bottom line is, for those who are vaccinated or have been recently tested prior to an event or taking a trip that are looking to make attendance and/or travel easier, obtaining a vaccine passport could be a beneficial option—especially for those booking international vacations. As The White House has recently moved up vaccine eligibility for all Americans to April 19, we anticipate interest in these offerings will continue to grow as vaccine equity does.

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