Implementing vaccine passports worldwide – a piece of cake?

Linh Ngan
06:00:41 - April 06, 2021

Vietnam is actively considering using the initiative of vaccine passports as a lever to reopen its borders and resume international travel, which has been frozen for nearly a year. However, creating a system of policies for vaccine passport global adoption is still a conundrum.

Despite many health/vaccine passports having been developed around the world…

  • Green Pass

The Green Pass, or fully referred to as the Digital Green Certificate, is one of the vaccine passport initiatives proposed by the European Commission on March 18 to use among EU countries. Serving as a vaccine certificate, Green Pass is applicable to travelers who have been vaccinated, valid 6 months from the second dose of vaccination. In addition, patients who have previously been infected and recovered from coronavirus will also be granted a Green Pass, valid until the end of this June.

Green Pass can only be issued by the Health Ministries of the countries, which means any other offices like HMOs or workplaces are not authorized for the issue. Currently, businesses complying with Green Pass requirements include gyms, swimming pools, restaurants, cafes, hotels, stadiums and other event venues in the EU region and some non-EU countries such as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

  • Common Pass

The Common Pass is a product of the collaboration between the World Economic Forum (WEF), the non-profit organization named Common Project and the Rockefeller Foundation that gives users access to health data systems, national or local registries or personal digital health records. The Common Pass has been piloted on flights from London, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Currently, Common Pass is being used by many airlines including ANA, Cathay Pacific Airways, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Qantas, and United Airlines, and several international airports such as Tokyo Airport, London Heathrow and Newark Liberty.

  • IATA Travel Pass

The IATA Travel Pass is an initiative launched by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and deployed as a mobile application to help users store and update the necessary document like test results or vaccination status. The IATA Travel Pass is considered to be the exclusive application for airlines as it helps ensure the confidential flow of information between governments, testing labs and facilities, airlines and passengers.

More than 70 countries are supporting this application and many airlines are piloting the IATA Travel Pass, including Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad, IAG (International Airlines Group), Malaysia. Airlines, Copa Airlines, Rwandair, Air New Zealand, Qantas, airBaltic, Gulf Air, ANA, Air Serbia, Thai Airways, Korean Air, Neos, Virgin Atlantic, Ethiopian, Vietjet Air Thailand and Hongkong Airlines.

  • Digital Health Pass

Digital Health Pass was developed by IBM technology corporation in America to help people return to public venues such as workplaces, schools, stadiums or airports. Digital Health Pass integrates multiple data such as body temperature, virus exposure warning, Covid-19 test results and vaccination status.

In addition to the above four types of health/vaccine passports, some other countries and private sectors also apply their own travel regulations and initiatives. For example, Israel, Greece, Cyprus and Seychelles have applied vaccine passports for one another’s residents as all these countries have implemented the same Pfizer vaccination program. American Airlines has also developed an application called VeriFLY to help passengers easily update the necessary documents requested by the destination, as well as store test results and vaccination status.

… but the global rollout of vaccine passports is still challenging.

The first problem with developing these vaccine passports lies in which vaccines they accept. Currently, there are a growing number of vaccines made by different countries. Besides those widely approved in Europe and the US such as BioNTech/Pfizer’s tozinameran (ComirnatyTM), Moderna’s mRNA-1273, and ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 of the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca, some countries also make their own vaccines such as China with BBIBP-CorV, India with Covaxin, and Russia with Sputnik-V. The question is what vaccines will be accepted by which countries and destinations. If the travelers are vaccinated with one of the vaccines which are not yet to be accepted by the destination, does it mean they are not allowed to enter even though they still hold a vaccine passport?

Second, there is no synchronization in the deployment of vaccine passports between service providers such as airlines, hotels or travel agents and the destinations. For example, the airline ANA is applying three types of passport vaccines which are the Common Pass, VeriFLY and IATA Travel Pass at the same time to facilitate the most favorable conditions for its passengers when they choose its service. However, there are still separate policies and regulations about reopening as well as different requirements for vaccines in each country. Thus, airlines or travel companies with only one type of vaccine passport may face some difficulties in operation as they are limited to certain destinations.

Third, whether a vaccine passport is widely used or not depends on the implementation of the vaccination program of each destination. With so many vaccines introduced to the market in a short time, many destinations are very cautious about researching, selecting and deciding to implement suitable vaccination programs for their people. In addition, the vaccination deployment for the entire population will be quite time-consuming that possibly lasts a whole year. This will significantly affect the reopening time of the destination, let alone the application of the vaccine passport worldwide.

Global organizations such as the World Health Organization are still in the process of creating thorough guidelines and frameworks for digital vaccination certifications/passports so that any initiative on vaccine passports will be accepted in all destinations. In addition, the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) also emphasized that the application of a vaccination certification will play an especially crucial role for a safe restart of international tourism. UNWTO also calls for standardization and digitization around the world so that we can have a clear and unified certification system that is recognized by all destinations.

Implementing vaccine passports worldwide – a piece of cake?


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