If you are working in the travel industry or embarking on an international trip, it is likely that you have come across a new term in these times - vaccine passport. While passports and visas were the go-to essentials for global travel in the pre-COVID world, many countries are now including vaccine passports too in the list.

What are vaccine passports?

Several medical experts are of the view that vaccination is the only long term solution to fight coronavirus.

According to the World Economic Forum, a ‘vaccine passport’ or ‘e-vaccination certificate’ might become a must-have travel document to cross the border of countries. A vaccine passport, which is also known as a digital health passport, allows access to an individual’s health data, particularly COVID-19 test results or the status of their vaccination.

Symbolic representation for vaccine passports. Illustration by Pratyush Thaker

There are two main reasons that drove the launch of vaccine passports -

  • Revival of international travel and thus, a much needed boost to the tourism sector
  • To prevent another wave of COVID-19 infections from foreign tourists.

Which countries have started using Vaccine Passports?

With a view to welcome tourists in the summer of 2021, the European Union (EU), set in motion a Digital Green Certificate also labelled as EU Digital COVID certificate. This certificate can be earned by anyone who is vaccinated against COVID-19 or those who have recently recovered or had a negative test result. This proposed certification is issued to enable safe and seamless movement of tourists inside the EU during the pandemic.

France also approved the creation of a COVID-19 ‘health pass’, which is anticipated to come into effect from 9 June. This health pass permits people to attend certain large indoor events (sports meets, festivals, etc) with over 1,000 people in attendance. And, from 1 July, this health pass can be used along with an EU-wide pass to facilitate travel within the Bloc.

The United Kingdom has updated their National Health Service (NHS) app, to let vaccinated users prove their status when travelling abroad and avail of exceptions in terms of travel rules.

When it comes to Asia, countries like Israel are already taking the step. In February, Israel’s government began issuing a digital Green Pass or a physical certificate to people who were vaccinated, so that they could enter restaurants, theaters and other public places. Presently, China and Japan are working on introducing their own digital vaccination certificates for cross-border travel.

Saudi Arabia may not be having any passport or pass system as of yet, but the country has removed the mandatory quarantine for foreign visitors provided they show the proof of vaccination.

At the moment, the United States has not made it imperative for international travelers to get vaccinated before entering the territory. However, a negative test report for COVID-19 continues to be mandatory. As per reports, the US administration is considering the initiation of vaccine passports for international trips.

Global opinions and surveys

Ipsos, a multinational market research and consulting firm headquartered in France conducted a survey covering 21,000 adults across 28 countries between March and April 2021, to gauge the global opinion on vaccine passports and their utility.

And, according to this, about three in four adults (78 percent of respondents) were of the opinion that vaccine passports should be made compulsory. About two in every three adults (67 percent) said that the document should also be a prerequisite while setting foot in public venues like stadiums and concert halls.

Ipsos surveyed 21,000 people to gauge global opinion on vaccine passports and their usage. (Image credit: World Economic Forum-Ipsos)

On the other hand, only about half (55 percent) said that they should be required to enter shops, restaurants, and offices.

Where does India stand?

With India still struggling amidst the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, a slew of countries have restricted the movement of Indian travelers to prevent the spread of the virus.

Countries Indians are banned from travelling into due to the second wave of COVID-19. Data as on 7 May 2021 (Image credit: India In Pixels)

Amongst all the states in India, only Kerala is thinking seriously about vaccine passports as of now. The Kerala government on 28 May 2021 decided to issue a COVID-19 vaccination certificate with passport numbers to those residents who wanted to travel abroad to obtain an educational degree or for specific employment opportunities.

In an official order, the state government said: “The Government of Kerala will issue a certificate in the prescribed format wherein the passport number will be recorded and vaccination certificate issued to a person who wishes to get travel clearance and requires such certificates.”

Representational image of a COVID-19 vaccination in progress (Image credit: Unsplash Jakayla Toney)

While India still continues to face shortage of vaccines with hardly four percent of the population (3.3 percent fully vaccinated Indians as on 8 June 2021) inoculated, the road to opening up the tourism sector seems long. Nevertheless, the constant lockdowns across the nation have led to a dip in the number of active cases, indicating some hope in the near future.

Edited by Roshni Shroff

Some resources and links to help you learn more about vaccine passports -

What is a ‘vaccine passport’ and will you need one the next time you travel?
A “vaccine passport” or “e-vaccination certification of compliance for border crossing regulations” could be required to enable seamless border-crossing.
Vaccine Passports: What are they, and who might need one?
Portable vaccine records are an old idea: Travelers to many parts of the world, children enrolling in school and some health care workers have long had to supply them as proof that they have been vaccinated against diseases.
How vaccine passports for global travel will work
Keen to avoid losing another summer of holiday revenue to the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union, some Asian governments and the airline industry are scrambling to develop so-called COVID-19 vaccine passports to help kickstart international travel.