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New 'vaccine passport' could be start of quarantine-free international travel

   March 16, 2021 2:10 AM
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by Meagan Miller

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PANDEMIC Vaccines
 
A new digital passport showing your vaccination status could be the start of quarantine-free international travel.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is working on creating what many call the Travel Pass app, which would be like a digital passport.

A spokesperson for IATA said the organization has been working on creating an app well before the pandemic, but quickly pivoted to focusing on how to incorporate health information.

It's promising news for many who have had to put plans on hold.

The vaccine passport could be the catalyst to get many back to exploring the world. IATA said they want to help more countries feel comfortable opening their borders by creating a uniform way to verify travelers are vaccinated.

Showing proof of vaccination isn't a completely new concept. For example, a few destinations require visitors to show a card saying they have a yellow fever vaccine. However, we've never seen this in digital form.

"This is something quite new, unique," said Dr. Pamella Seay, a licensed attorney and professor of Justice Studies at Florida Gulf Coast University.

IATA said the app would include the basic information that's on a standard passport. It would also be able to store your COVID-19 test results and proof of vaccination from a lab in addition to other resources for travelers, like locations of testing sites, right on your phone or other devices.

The app could allow you to visit countries that otherwise have travel restrictions and prevent you from having to follow quarantine rules in place, but the idea doesn't come without concerns.

"It's more than just gathering your information, this is gathering your medical information," Dr. Seay said.

She and many others bring up privacy and ethics issues, questioning where else the information would go.

Perry Flint, a spokesman for IATA, said to protect your privacy, the travel pass would not have a central database. Instead, the information would reside on your own device to be shared at your discretion. But there are other concerns, including the fact that we still have more to learn about the COVID-19 vaccines.

"Before you have a certificate showing you have your vaccination, we need to make sure it is effective. Can we transmit the disease even if we've been vaccinated? We don't know these things," Dr. Seay said.

The CDC has updated its guidance for life after getting fully vaccinated. One thing that hasn't changed – the warning not to travel. The CDC said you should still delay domestic and international travel.

"We need some time and right now we don't have a lot because people are anxious. People want to get back to doing the things they used to do," Dr. Seay said.

As vaccinations ramp up, there are several countries already asking for proof that you've got the shots.

"Israel, for example, already has their green booklet," Dr Seay said.

Flint said IATA's app that's already being tested aims at speeding up an existing process and ultimately getting more people in the skies.

"We've been working hard on this, but we also need governments to agree on the standards for digital testing and vaccination certificates," said Flint.

He said IATA is not in support of requiring vaccines for travel, but that's out of their control. It would ultimately be up to individual governments.

"Travel and tourism is one of the biggest economic drivers in the world and right now that is deflated, that is problematic," Dr. Seay said.

But she questions whether a vaccine passport would create new barriers based on access to COVID-19 vaccines.

"Are we creating a class of people that are now unable to travel? Is it non-discriminatory? It's hard to say right now," she said.

IATA said the app is undergoing pilot testing with several carriers and airlines now. They didn't have an exact date on when it will be released but their hope is to have it out by the end of March or April.

Flint said the app would be free to users and the pricing model would be figured out between airlines and IATA.

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