COVID Vaccine Passport

By: Elise Thompson

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Photo by:  SELF Magazine

With recent developments in COVID-19 vaccine distribution, the question of how it is best to return to some resemblance of normal has arisen. Countries across the globe are making efforts to return back to pre-pandemic life in the safest way possible, and one of the ways they are doing so is through a proposed covid vaccine passport. 

As simple as it sounds, this passport is just documentation confirming that you have received a vaccination against the virus. There are a variety of proposed models, such as digital certification. Different ideas are now being developed across the world for potential use in airlines to ensure the safest travel possible. Passports would be required for travel, and possibly for partaking in other activities. The overall idea is that travelers would be cleared without going through the hassle of quarantine and meeting testing requirements. 

Although this idea is still in the works, it is not unheard of. Requiring vaccination proof is something that has been around for decades, for example with diseases such as yellow fever and cholera. In the past vaccinated travelers received an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, also known as a yellow card, which was signed and stamped. On a local scale, proof of vaccination is seen in public schools, where parents have to show that their children have received necessary vaccinations in order for them to attend. 

The certification idea, for now, varies from country to country. Iceland has recently become the first European country to instill this certification practice, allowing travel across borders if you have received both of the Covid-19 vaccinations. This applies to incoming qualified travelers as well. In Iceland, the vaccine passport is not replacing any currently standing restrictions, it is only additional.

Many other countries followed right behind Iceland, developing their own form of certification. Take Poland for example, where each citizen who receives the vaccination is given a unique QR code. This code is available digitally, and is able to be directly downloaded to your personal public health account, but is also available in a printed version. 

The United States on the other hand has not made any sort of advancements towards installing something similar. However, in President Biden’s seven-goal National-Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic-Preparedness, there is a section addressing looking into whether or not international vaccine certificates would be potentially possible in the future. It states that they “shall assess the feasibility of linking COVID-19 vaccination to International Certificates of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) and producing electronic versions of ICVPs,” (National-Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic-Preparedness, 181).

A movement towards international standards for these immunity passports has not been established, although many countries have expressed great interest. The World Health Organization (WHO) for the time being is opposed to vaccination certificates on an international scale, standing in the belief that vaccination should not exempt you from other health mandates, especially regarding travel. 

Other factors of controversy regarding data privacy and restricting human rights stand in the way as well. Some say that these passports would create further division between people based on their health status, restricting the rights of those who had or have covid, and those who are unable to get vaccinated. The issue of data protection also comes into play because this certification would require access to people’s private health records. Despite these negatives, this idea of vaccine certification is something that already plays a role in today's society, it is just a matter of how widespread and influential it will eventually become.