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Will “Vaccine Passports” Become a Necessity for Future Travel?

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Currently everyone that is vaccinated against COVID in the US receives a CDC-issued paper card to document which vaccine they received and the dates of the vaccination. While this card is useful to keep handy as proof of vaccination (see our FAQ on this), the idea of a “vaccine passport” is to create a standardized digital record that would make activities and particularly travel safer and more efficient. There are of course many questions about who would authorize and control the system, what the passports would be allowed to be used for and if the whole system would actually be inherently unfair because of inequitable access to the vaccine itself. Therefore, while there is no doubt that adding proof of vaccination would add another layer of protection for travelers, it remains to be determined what role vaccine passports will play in travel.

As of now, all states in the US share their COVID-19 vaccination data with the CDC for tracking purposes only and the states themselves keep databases in their vaccine registries. There is no federal database and there is no intention to create one. There are, however, many private and governmental agencies working to create these passports in the US and globally.  As of March, the WHO stated that they do not support mandating vaccines as a requirement prior to international travel and on April 5, Dr. Fauci said that vaccine passports will not be mandated by the federal government in the US. 

All that said, a NY times article on the subject aptly stated that “vaccine passports are increasingly viewed as the key to unlocking the world after a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns.” In smaller countries that are dependent on tourism, it seems more likely that passports will become commonplace in the near future. For example, Aruba has made it easier for those with negative tests to get through the airport using digital certificates and soon they will likely also fast-track individuals with confirmation of vaccines. There are just under 20 other countries that give vaccinated travelers a pass of some kind, whether it is bypassing tests, avoidance of quarantine or at least a shorter duration.   Larger foreign entities that are working towards creating passports are running into challenges with difficult legal, ethical and technical issues

Experts do believe vaccine passports will eventually be a reality, but all agree that there are still a lot of unknowns. Most importantly, whether or not you have been vaccinated, it is still best to follow the precautions of masking and distancing when traveling.

Jackie Phillips, MD, April 13, 2021