In 2021, the COVID-19 Vaccine Passport will become the most important travel document. While countries are reopening borders, the clamour for a globally-acceptable digital Vaccine Passport is getting louder and louder. Soon, Vaccine Passports will de facto be a requirement by individual countries to prove immunity.
To get the world in motion once again, Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general, United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), has called for the global adoption of vaccination passports as part of wider measures for safe resumption of international travel. The recent UNWTO meeting called for international health and travel bodies to step up the coordination of a standardised digital certification system, as well as harmonised testing protocols.
While the talk of Vaccine Passport becoming ‘inevitable’ is gaining ground, most forget that this is not the first time you’d need an extra travel document. Remember that mandatory Yellow Card that was essential proof of vaccination against yellow fever? This protocol was rolled 88 years ago after the first International Certificate of Inoculation and Vaccination was established by the International Sanitary Convention for Aerial Navigation in 1933 in The Hague, Netherlands, and then later adopted by the World Health Organisation.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
What is the status of Vaccine Passport rollout? Here’s a quick look at its current status.
First Schengen country to issue digital vaccine certificates: Iceland has become the first country in the Schengen area to issue vaccination certificates. Of the total population of 3.5 lakh humans, all the 4,500 who have received two doses of vaccine are now eligible for a digital certificate. According to the official website, vaccination certificates that meet the Chief Epidemiologist of Iceland’s guidelines and are issued in an EEA/EFTA state will be valid at the Icelandic border. Those presenting such a certificate are exempt from official border restrictions and are therefore not obliged to undergo a screening. (Source: www.government.is)
Schengen States: Soon after the first wave of the COVID-19 in 2020, SchengenVisaInfo.com had reported that once a vaccine was finally effective, travellers could be asked to present proof they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be eligible to enter the European Union and Schengen Area Member States.
Denmark: Now, ten months later, Denmark has announced its plans of reintroducing a digital document. In January this year, the country’s Ministry of Health and the Elderly said that it is working on a ‘vaccine passport’ for Danish travellers to travel to the countries where vaccination becomes mandatory for entry.
Cyprus had stated that by March 2021, its border authorities would permit to enter anyone who can show proof that he/she has been vaccinated, in addition to the regular entry requirements (passports, visas, etc.).
Hungary is also working towards an essential requirement of the so-called ‘immunity passports’, which in essence, is a proof that the traveller has previously been infected with COVID-19 (but is no longer), and now has antibodies in their body.
Greece: The Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has appealed to the European Commission to introduce a Coronavirus vaccination certificate in order to facilitate travel between the bloc. (Source: SchengenVisaInfo.com)
Israel’s Green Passport: Israel’s 24/7 campaign vaccination drive has been on a fast track mode - it is injecting up to 200,000 people a day and 70% of over-60s, have already received the prescribed two doses of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. The country’s health ministry has unveiled a Green Passport that will allow already-vaccinated people to travel and be part of large gatherings. The passport is available on a smartphone application, interactive voice recognition, or it can be printed out.
Travel Passes: The pandemic has spurred the need for a globally-acceptable Vaccine Passport. Several non-profit and technology companies are working towards creating a secure and verifiable digital passport, of which the most talked are .
IATA Travel Pass: The World Health Organisation is developing digital standards for more secure vaccine pass that will be tamper-proof and accommodate new global standards. To be called IATA Travel Pass, this mobile application will enable passengers to create a ‘digital passport’, receive COVID-19 test and vaccination certificates and verify that they are sufficient for their itinerary, and share testing or vaccination certificates with airlines and authorities to facilitate travel.
The app will be available in iOS and Android stores by March 2021. (www.iata.org)
CommonPass: The Commons Project, The World Economic Forum and a broad coalition of public and private partners are collaborating to launch CommonPass, a globally-interoperable platform for people to document their COVID-19 status (health declarations, PCR tests, vaccinations) to satisfy country entry requirements, while protecting their health data privacy. Airport Council International, a group representing almost 2,000 airports around the world, has signed on to use CommonPass (www.commonpass.org).
AOKPass: The ICC AOKpass provides a digitally authenticated, secure and portable copy of your medical records. It is built to be decentralised, which means that your medical records are stored only on your device and will not be shared or stored elsewhere. Singapore was the first country to test the AOKPass by the International Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 45 million companies in over 100 countries. (www.aokpass.com)
WTTC’s No to Mandatory Vaccine Passport: The idea of a Vaccine Passport is not without its set of detractors. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) has branded them ‘discriminatory’. Against mandatory vaccine passport, WTTC is in favour of a test-and-release scheme where travellers test before travel to prove they are Covid-free“The most vulnerable groups should be prioritised, a blanket vaccination requirement would simply discriminate against non-vulnerable groups, such as Generation X, Z and Millennials, who should be able to travel with proof of a negative COVID test,” Gloria Guevara, WTTC President and CEO, said.