vaccine passports

‘Vaccine passports’ could be the next travel pass to access the world

Andile Sicetsha - 29.03.2021

Vaccine passports could be a mandatory prerequisite for travellers looking to access the world in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccine passports could be the future of accessing the world if powerful and influential governments have it their way with finding quicker solutions to international travel in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaccine passports: What are they?

The idea of introducing digital passes has long been the subject of contention in policymaking meetings all over the world. However, now more than ever, the idea of a digital passport has become prominent.

Most countries are cautiously granting access to international travel, on the basis that a negative COVID-19 test certificate is provided.

Soon, though, according to CNBC, this will be replaced by vaccine passports, a digital identification pass that will tell airports and other ports of entry if a traveller has been vaccinated from COVID-19.

How will they work?

Currently, the International Air Travel Association (IATA) — which represents more than 290 airlines — is trialling its Travel Pass with 20 major carriers, including Emirates, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

This IATA Travel Pass promotional video provides a clear explanation of how the ‘digital passport’ will work if it is widely approved.

Countries that are in support of vaccine passports

While the idea of introducing vaccine passports has the potential to see the return of international travel, there have been some reservations in the science community.

Much of the counter-arguments to this idea are centred around the existing data on vaccine efficiency on the different strains of COVID-19 that are spreading all over the world.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is also against this idea. Here’s what the United Nations health authority said on the matter in January:

“There are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission and limited availability of vaccines.”

The other concern is the great scale of inequality this new process will expose. If adopted globally, only travellers who have been vaccinated will be allowed to access the world.

A report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit in February projects that advanced and middle-income countries are miles ahead of the rest of the world in inoculating their citizens.

Advanced countries like China, the United States and the United Kingdom could achieve herd immunity as early as mid-2022, while middle-income countries are expected to achieve their vaccination goals in early 2023.

For struggling countries like South Africa, it could be as late as 2024 before any progress is made in achieving herd immunity. In a short-term future with vaccine passports approved, this presents a stark divide between high and low-income countries that, according to Liberty (UK’s largest civil rights group, is unfair.

“These so-called passports claim they would ensure those who can prove they have coronavirus immunity can start to return to normal life. Which raises the question — what happens to everyone else?” the group said.

At this time, the US, UK and the European Council have shown support for the vaccine passports. There is no clear direction on when these digital passes will become a global prerequisite for travel. One thing is for sure though, it seems more than likely that this will become a reality once the creases have been ironed out.