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  • Writer's pictureRobert Staines

Could Vaccine Passports be the Future of Travel?

With the prospect of foreign travel seemingly hanging by a thread, could vaccine passports be part of the solution to opening up our airways and getting travellers back to where they want to be?

There’s been a lot of hype around so-called vaccine passports. Just last week the EU announced they were developing a Green Pass which would allow freedom of movement for EU nationals within Europe. Here in the UK, Boris Johnson has confirmed the government are looking at some form of Vaccine passport.

All this will be music to the ears of many would-be travellers but is it something we should be wary of?

Many have expressed concern over the potential discriminatory nature of a vaccine passport. Living in a democracy with all the benefits and freedoms we enjoy, how can those who choose not to get their jab, and indeed those who cannot have a vaccine for medical or religious reasons, still be able to travel? At this early stage, age discrimination must also be taken into account. As the vaccination roll-out continues and younger generations can receive their jab, this will of course become less likely, but it’s a subtopic that cannot be ignored for now. One way around this is to incorporate rigorous testing and a secure way of storing negative test certificates, which will facilitate travel for all, regardless of age or vaccination status. Whilst some countries around the world have stated they will only be accepting vaccinated visitors, many closer to home such as Turkey, Greece and Spain have said whilst they welcome vaccine passports to prevent the need for testing, proof of a negative test will suffice.

There are also concerns surrounding right to privacy and the integrity of personal data. Developers of vaccine passports are keen to point out that these issues remain a top priority and security is key. IATA (International Air Transport Association) have been developing a digital passport app since the start of the pandemic which they hope will eventually become the universal global digital passport used by all airlines. They have stressed that no personal data is to be stored centrally, it simply links entities that need verification (from airlines and governments) with the test or vaccination data when travellers permit. This last point is key - no verification will go to an airline or a government without the authorization of the traveller.

Another point to be taken into consideration is that as much as we live in an increasingly digital world, there are still many people who don’t rely on smart phones, tablets and other technologies created to ‘make life easier.’ Access to technology comes at a cost to many consumers and it’s unfair to assume that everyone around the world has the means to embrace digital vaccine passports. Some people just don’t like relying on technology for whatever reasons and that is wholly acceptable. Certainly from a UK and EU perspective, it has been confirmed that paper copies of vaccine and test certificates will be suffice and it seems impossible that other countries won’t adopt this stance.

With these important points addressed it’s a wonder digital passports haven’t been implemented sooner. Living in a digital age, travelling with a physical passport that can so easily get lost down the side of an airplane seat (I’ve seen it done a million times!) borders on archaic. As an extensive traveller I carry with me a Yellow fever certificate which is always in my pocket. I am not particularly into technology - it just doesn’t come naturally to me - but I am intrigued by the thought of having all my documentation in one place, in a ‘digital wallet’ if you like - somewhere I can store my passport, vaccination status and test certificates. There are apps out there, like the IATA Travel Pass and British Airway’s VeriFLY app, which will send this information directly to airlines for verification before travellers even arrive at the airport. The thought of streamlining any of the mundane aspects within the travel process and reducing irritating bureaucracy is extremely attractive.

There are certainly inventive and creative thought processes behind these initiatives that go beyond a vaccine passport – like information on destinations, border restrictions and locally accepted testing centres. Whether these added features are a cynical ploy to lure the reluctant into submission is yet to be seen, but there are plenty of airlines and governments out there already using, and preparing to launch, some kind of vaccine/digital passport.

It seems highly unlikely that vaccine certificates will not become an integral part of our travel experience. However I have faith that as we beat this global pandemic (which we will!) travel will once again be accessible to all.

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