Articles / Coronavirus

COVID-19 vaccine passports: will you need one?

What are vaccine passports and will they be required in order to travel? Find out everything we know so far about digital vaccine certificates.

What are vaccine passports? Will you need one to travel in the future? In this article we'll explain the idea of vaccine passports or digital vaccination certificates and what it might mean for COVID-19 vaccination and the future of travel.

What are COVID-19 vaccine passports?

A “vaccine passport”, “corona passport”, is an idea proposed by a number of governments around the world to create a type of digital vaccination certificate in order to facilitate travel. The proposals vary considerably from one country to another.

In countries such as Denmark and Sweden, a vaccine passport is proposed as a kind of digital certificate, allowing those who have been vaccinated to provide proof should they be asked for it. The idea of a digital vaccine passport that can be stored as an app or a digital document are also reportedly being explored by the government of the United States.

Airlines are also exploring digital passport solutions, Etihad Airways and Emirates are developing a “travel pass” to facilitate travel for those making journeys to countries which may require certificates.

Do vaccine certificates already exist?

Yes, vaccine certificates are already in use for vaccines such as yellow fever. Many countries around the world require vaccine certificates, particularly for people travelling from countries where diseases are endemic.

When travelling from countries where the risk of yellow fever is high, particularly in South and Central America, and parts of Africa, travellers can be asked for a yellow fever certificate on arrival in countries such as Australia and China.

International vaccination certificate

The international certificate of vaccination proves that a person has been vaccinated against yellow fever, and can also be issued for some meningitis vaccines.

Will there be a COVID-19 vaccine app?

There have been some reports that COVID-19 vaccine certificates will be stored in some kind of app. There are many different proposals for digital certificates, so it is likely that they will take different forms.

In some countries, there have been proposals for the certificates to be stored on an app.

There is a possibility that digital vaccination certificates could be stored in an app.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has reportedly been in talks with the UK government to develop an app that allows travellers to securely store COVID-19 vaccine and testing information for travel.

Will digital vaccine certificates be required?

There have been mixed messages from the UK government on the idea of vaccine passports, having first been ruled out by UK vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi. The idea of a vaccination certificate for travel is now reportedly "under review". There are many different methods suppoesdly under consideration, including the idea of an NHS app.

Although it has been ruled out by the UK government, it is possible that vaccine passports will be required for entry to other countries.

There has also been some suggestion that vaccine passports could be used for attendance to large events, such as conferences, sporting events or large concerts and music festivals. 

At this point it is difficult to tell how digital certificates might be used, so any assumptions about broader uses are entirely speculative.

Which countries are considering digital vaccine certificates?

A few countries have already begun developing some type of digital vaccine certificate, including Estonia, Denmark and Sweden in Europe. Other countries, such as Greece have asked the EU to look into the issue.

Denmark is looking to issue digital certificates in the coming months, whereas officials in Sweden have suggested that the infrastructure to implement the certificates will be in place by the summer.

Countries such as Denmark and Sweden have already begun work to implement vaccine passport systems

Other countries, such as Greece and Romania, have suggested that they will allow tourists who can provide proof of vaccination to skip quarantine when entering the country.

The following countries in Europe have expressed support for vaccine passports:

  • Portugal

  • Greece

  • Denmark

  • Sweden

  • Hungary

  • Iceland

  • Poland

  • Slovakia

  • Spain

  • Australia

  • The US

  • Thailand

Why has there been a backlash against vaccine passports?

There has been some backlash against the idea of vaccine passports, with some claiming that it could be unethical or discriminatory against those who do not have access to vaccines, or don’t want to be vaccinated.

On the other hand, it has been argued that relaxing restrictions for those who have been vaccinated will encourage vaccine uptake.

Although many people are aware that vaccination certificates have been issued in the past in a physical form, the digital component has created unease, particularly in a climate where many people are concerned about misuse of personal information.

However, a rise in COVID-19 vaccination certificate fraud might suggest that a coordinated approach to digital vaccination certificates could result in a secure and more evenly regulated system.

Will vaccine passports be an essential part of future travel?

According to Jonas Nilsen, MD and co-founder of Practio, “digital vaccine certificates are in development in many countries around the world. It is likely that some kind of evidence of vaccination will be required in order for British tourists to be allowed to travel to many popular destinations around the world, such as Australia, Thailand or Greece.”

“We currently use vaccination certificates to provide proof of vaccination for yellow fever, and many countries will not allow travellers to enter without a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate. Vaccination certificates are considered an effective means to stop the spread of infectious diseases”.

“Many countries are suffering from a fall of revenue in the tourism sector, and vaccination certificates could provide a much needed boost to local economies, allowing for restrictions to be lifted in a way that is safe and keeps infections down.”

Vaccine passports could allow air travel to resume with fewer restrictions

“Tech solutions could also provide more efficient ways to store vaccine certificates securely, and allow international travel to resume after being paralysed by the pandemic for much of the past year.”

Are there plans for an international digital vaccine certificate?

While the World Health Organization has warned against the idea of vaccine passports or immunity certificates in the past, it is now understood to be considering plans for digital vaccination certificates. The EU is also discussing potential framework for digital vaccine certificates.

As of yet no plans have been announced for an internationally recognised certificate, only efforts by individual countries and organisations to develop systems for recording who has or has not been vaccinated.

Will digital vaccination certificates allow us to travel again?

Nielsen states that it is important to bear in mind that “no vaccine provides 100% protection from infection by coronavirus”. Many processes will have to be put in place in order for travel to be made safe, but essentially “digitising vaccine certificates should make the return to international travel much smoother”.

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