The Future of Covid 19 “Vaccine Passports” and Traveling

The Biden administration and private companies are working to develop a standard way of handling vaccine credentials — often referred to as “vaccine passports” — that would allow Americans to prove they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

The travel industry, which was hit particularly hard by the rise of COVID 19, is slowly bouncing back through the rollout of vaccines and vaccine passports. 

COVID-19 “vaccine passports” are paper or digital forms certifying a person’s vaccinations for purposes of international travel. In addition, some countries are using them for domestic travel and or access to certain establishments, activities, and events. 

This means if you are vaccinated you could show your “vaccine passport” when you travel and move across borders more freely by potentially bypassing travel restrictions like testing or quarantine requirements upon arrival. 

It is still early on, but as of right now they would be in the form of a QR code, that one could display via smartphone app. Think of something like a mobile boarding pass or printed out on a piece of paper. From there, businesses, venues, or border control agents are able to scan them. This provides a way for businesses, universities, or individuals to see if students or customers are vaccinated. 

When you receive the vaccine — whether it is at a government-run site or your local Walgreens — a record then enters into some sort of digitalized database. If you have not been vaccinated yet, there may be an option for you to upload a negative Covid test to the app, but you would be more inclined to update it every time you travel or go to an event. 

This pass would be a free tool offered by the state. Any business can use it if they want to. Using the pass could lead to a larger filled concert or sports arenas. Using a QR code is just faster and more accurate than having a ticket checker at, say, Yankee Stadium intensely examining everyone’s C.D.C. card. 

Or people can use it for personal matters. At birthday parties or weddings when the host wants to be safe. Instead of having guests send a photo of a negative covid test they can just flash their health pass. 

But the idea is raising charged legal and ethical questions: Can businesses require employees or customers to provide proof that they have been vaccinated when the coronavirus vaccine is voluntary? Can schools require that students prove they have been injected with what is still officially an experimental treatment the same way they require long-approved vaccines for measles and polio? Can governments mandate vaccinations or stand in the way of businesses or educational institutions that demand proof?

Legal experts say the answer to all of these questions is yes, though in a country as divided as this one, politicians should prepare for a fight. Republican critics say vaccine passports raise the specter of centralized databases of vaccinated people, which they view as a government intrusion on privacy.

“A vaccine passport—a unified, centralized system for providing or denying access to everyday activities like shopping and dining—would be a nightmare for civil liberties and privacy,” Justin Amash, a former Republican congressman who is now a libertarian, wrote on Twitter.

Within the next month or so there will be an app called “CommonPass”. They refer to themselves as a “smart health card”, because just like one’s CDC card it has your name, date of birth, and vaccine information. CommonPass lets individuals access their lab results and vaccination records, and consent to have that information used to validate their COVID status without revealing any other underlying personal health information. 

CommonPass delivers a simple yes/no answer as to whether the individual meets the current entry criteria, but the underlying health information stays in the individual’s control. 

Airlines including JetBlue and United are also testing the “CommonPass” app. Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s major carriers, would rather have a clean, easy way for travelers to show their status instead of making the vaccine mandatory for travelers

There are a large number of questions still in the air about the development of vaccine passports. It is not yet clear if or when the U.S. might adopt a vaccine passport standard for cross-border travel or for domestic purposes, and what form such a credential will take or what restrictions it might place on individuals. As of right now, there is a high chance that we will see some sort of digital health pass that will hopefully lead society back to safe business, recreation, and travel.


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