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BOLD OPINION: A Vaccine Passport Requirement Is Essential

Someone getting a precious COVID vaccine

Throughout the world, each country has their own set of criteria whether someone can cross their borders. Many require negative COVID test results, and even those often have to quarantine for days after entry. These same inconveniences exist for several states in the U.S. as well. In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID and save lives, these restrictions have been necessary. But as more and more people receive vaccinations and develop antibodies to COVID, these rules also need to change. Digital documentation, or a vaccine passport, is one solution to this problem.

There are a number of reasons why a vaccine passport requirement would be beneficial. Some involve economic efforts, and others relate to health and wellness. Likewise, digital documentation requirements could potentially serve to encourage more to receive vaccinations. By examining each of these areas, it becomes perfectly clear why a vaccine passport is inevitable in the future. And with currently 1.3 million people receiving a COVID vaccination daily in the U.S., that time is now.

“One key element vital for the restart of tourism is consistency and harmonization of rules and protocols regarding international travel. Evidence of vaccination, for example, through the coordinated introduction of what may be called ‘health passports’ can offer this.” – Zurab Pololikashvili, Secretary General, United Nations World Tourism Organization

First Things First, Vaccine Passports Aren’t New

While many shutter at the thought of having a vaccine passport, the concept certainly isn’t new. For decades, verification of vaccination is required before entry into certain regions. For example, some countries require vaccination against yellow fever, cholera, and rubella prior to arrival. A yellow card, called an International Certification of Vaccination and Prophylaxis card, is issued that communicates this information. Likewise, parents are well familiar with proof of vaccination of children before starting school. So, at least in this regard, a vaccine passport is not new.

What is new is the attempt to make vaccine verifications digital. Digital documentation that someone has had a COVID vaccination is more challenging for a few reasons. For one, this information would involve health data about a person. Therefore, digital documentation of vaccinations would be at risk for privacy protection violations and cybersecurity threats. (Want to read more about cybersecurity and fiduciary duty? Check out this Bold Business story.) Likewise, many people in the world lack mobile devices where this information might be accessed. These reflect the larger issues facing the development of a vaccine passport.

“Everybody who has traveled internationally to countries that require vaccination against malaria, diphtheria and other things has had yellow cards. Parents with kids in public school have had to prove their kids have been vaccinated. This is not something new.” – Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director of Linux Foundation Public Health

A Vaccine Passport Is Vital to the Global Economy

It’s no secret that numerous industries have been devastated by the pandemic. Travel and tourism industries are among those that have been affected the most. The airline industry continues to work at half-capacity. International borders remain closed to tourists. And hotels and Airbnb bookings are down substantially. The only way these issues can be quickly resolved is by ensuring everyone their safe and secure to travel again. Without some type of vaccine passport, this simply isn’t possible. (Read more about how the travel and tourism industry is dealing with COVID here.)

One of the issues related to a vaccine passport and open travel involves equity of access. The lack of a digital and mobile device certainly hinders digital documentation. But likewise, poor access to a coronavirus vaccine does as well. In this regard, many organizations working on a vaccine passport include a way to verify negative COVID testing. In this way, even if one cannot yet receive the vaccine, proof they aren’t infectious exists. With this type of process in place, travel and tourism can resume and economic growth facilitated.

“It’s about trying to digitize a process that happens now and make it into something that allows for more harmony and ease, making it easier for people to travel between countries without having to pull out different papers for different countries and different documents at different checkpoints.” – Nick Careen, Senior VP for Airport, Passenger, Cargo and Security, International Air Transportation Association

A Vaccine Passport Will Accelerate the Pandemic’s End

One of the concerns regarding the vaccination process has been getting everyone on board. Disinformation has convinced some that vaccines may not be safe. This has occurred despite most available coronavirus vaccines offering more than 90 percent effectiveness with no reported deaths. If accurate information cannot persuade some to change their views, a vaccine passport might. If such digital documentation is required in order to travel, this will provide an added incentive to get the vaccine. Simply the requirement of a proof of vaccine could catalyze this trend.

A bunch of precious COVID vaccines
A vaccine passport is the kind of digital documentation that can help eradicate COVID.

The more rapidly everyone becomes vaccinated, the more quickly herd immunity can be achieved. Once attained, life will be able to move forward once again without as many restrictions and limitations in place. Until then, digital documentation provides a way to move toward this goal safely and securely. Thus, a vaccine passport will not only invite greater global mobility immediately but accelerate a return to normalcy as well. Many organizations appreciate this, which is why they’re pursuing digital documentation of vaccination now.

Challenges to Overcome

For all of the reasons cited, a vaccine passport is absolutely essential. Digital documentation that one is COVID negative or has received vaccination is a must. This doesn’t mean there are not challenges that will be difficult to overcome. Equitable access to vaccines, passports and digital devices proving vaccination or testing is difficult. However, major organizations like IBM, the Linux Foundation, the IATA, and the World Economic Forum are actively involved. Given the original global passport system took 50 years to develop, creating a vaccine passport rapidly is a bold pursuit. But our individual and global wellbeing depends on it, and where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s not if digital documentation of COVID vaccination will be required but when. And for all of us, sooner is much better than later.


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