Digital Health Passports: Why You Will Absolutely Need One If You Want To Travel

For those of us who live to travel the world Digital Health Passports, also known as Vaccine Passports, may be our ticket to finally getting back to flying the friendly skies.

Years ago when I was off exploring the world there were multiple countries requiring proof of vaccine to enter/or your home country required you to be vaccinated to travel to. (I no longer remember which way it went). As a world traveler I was vaccinated for all of it, everything from Diptheria to Typhoid to Yellow Fever. I took a 2 week course of Malaria pills before one trip, and from memory when I lived in London I had a cholera vaccine too.

But It Got Tricky…

But here is where it all gets tricky. Back then you had a card clipped into your passport and/or some vaccinations may have been stamped into your passport or to a separate paper, and herein lies the problem. I don’t remember how all these vaccines were tracked. There is no record. Whether it was stamps, pieces of paper from the doctor who administered them or the carte jaune, however these vaccines were recorded is all long gone.

Sample Carte Jaune /Yellow Card

Since being vaccinated I have gone through multiple passports, became a citizen of a second country and then had two passports, have moved to different countries and then moved within those countries. Long story short I couldn’t tell you the name of my old doctor in L.A let alone who I had in London. With nothing digitized there is no way to trace this random information.

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What Is A Digital health Passport?

A Digital Health Passport or Vaccine Passport is simply a digital means of tracking which vaccines you have had and when you had them. Information from covid test results can be uploaded as well. This keeps all your pertinent vaccine travel information in one uniformly accepted place.

When you travel to different countries their passport control will be able to scan the QR code on your digital health passport at the same time they scan your passport, and know whether to allow you in or not.

How Do They Work?

Digital Health Passports or Vaccine Passports are merely a higher tech and more efficient version of what we currently have. They will likely be in app form, making it easier to get your information uploaded quickly.

As far as I know if you are traveling anywhere that requires a yellow fever vaccine you still have to present your Carte Jaune/Yellow Card on arrival. (I lost mine somewhere in the world, God only knows when.)

If you have children then you already know that at least here in the U.S. you have a card with all their vaccination information on it, and copies of it have to be sent to schools/colleges/a variety of other places your child goes.

Now this information will be stored digitally in one place, will be difficult to forge, and will enable all countries to somewhat safely allow travelers entry.

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Are Vaccine Passports Necessary?

By the middle of 2021 the expectation is that countries will pivot from just requiring a negative covid test to requiring proof of vaccination in order to open their borders to travelers. For now most countries are still closed to travel and with the proliferation and highly contagious spread of variants such as the South African and Brazilian strains of the virus, negative tests aren’t proving adequate in stopping the spread.

Think about where you live. How would you feel if 1000 people from country X descended on your neighborhood tomorrow? 1000 people who had no proof of vaccination or testing negative for covid and its various strains other than a piece of paper that anyone with very basic photoshop skills could forge? What about if 2000 people arrived all at once? The average cruise ship holds 4000, so imagine 4000 people arriving all at once, with only a piece of paper saying they were safe to be where you go about your life?

Las Ramblas Barcelona crowds
Barcelona’s Las Ramblas during tourist season. How covid-safe would you feel in that crowd?

Just as a regular passport will flag you if you are a danger to the country you are trying to enter, a vaccine passport will flag you if you potentially pose a risk.

Covid 19

It looks like Covid 19 and its variables will be around somewhere between a long time and forever, so if the world is going to open back up and get some semblance of normalcy we will need a way to track safe admission into every country. Beyond that we need one type of testing that is universally recognized along with a small group of regulated covid vaccines that are monitored and recognized worldwide. Like the Polio vaccine. Or the Measles vaccine, or Smallpox, or Typhoid or any one of multiple vaccines.

The Common Pass and IATA Travel Pass

The two biggest contenders in the worldwide digital health passport category are The Common Pass and the IATA Travel Pass.

The World Economic Forum got together with a Swiss non profit to create a means to open world economies back up. They created The Common Pass, a digital passport utilizing the criteria above. More than 2000 international airports along with numerous foreign governments have already signed on to the program, which provides a standardized format so that all countries use the same testing protocols and group of vaccine options.

IATA, the International Air Travel Association are working on another international digital health passport called the IATA Travel Pass. Multiple airlines have already signed on. Read more about it here

Between the two the world should hopefully be able to reopen somewhat safely in the not too distant future.

Covid tests will only be accepted from approved vendors using specific protocols – just like the current system if you want to travel to Hawaii.

In all likelihood it will be impossible to catch every case, but as the majority of each population get vaccinated the spread of this particular virus should come close to stopping.

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When Will We Need Them By?

At the time of writing this post Digital Health Passports are still being worked on. The assumption at this time is that by mid 2021 they will be available and will become the new mode of entry to crossing international borders. There is thought that without a digital health passport/vaccine passport travelers will be banned from entering most countries.

What Are The Downsides?

One downside to the Digital Health Passports is that not all countries will be up to speed with vaccines at the same time. If they have vaccine availability they may lack the critical infrastructure necessary to make this system work.

Third world and developing countries will be disadvantaged, although I would expect their national airlines and the other major international airlines who route through these countries to come up with a vaccine plan, just to keep business moving.

What About The Anti-Vaxxers?

Not everyone can be vaccinated. Some medical conditions preclude getting vaccines.

Then you have those who will just refuse vaccination.

I’m not sure what the world will do about those who cannot be vaccinated, but those who choose to opt out will no doubt be refused the ability to travel internationally. Which is fair enough. Unless someone can persuade me otherwise (with rational argument, not hysteria) I don’t think anyone who chooses not to take the vaccine should be allowed to travel internationally.

Where I live a frightening percentage of people are caught somewhere between believing Bill Gates wants to microchip them (it would be more efficient to just track their phones, but whatever) and that vaccines are going to kill them/sterilize them/be too dangerous. Short of a really good marketing drive explaining the covid vaccines I can’t see them ever getting vaccinated.

Imagine this was your neighborhood, and within this crowd are multiple people who chose not to get vaccinated.

I don’t want thousands of people flying in to my country and swanning around my neighborhood with highly contagious variants (or any covid actually) and getting infections growing again. When you look at how devastating Covid 19 has been to the entire world and all economies, it makes sense not to let anyone travel internationally without proof of vaccination and negative covid tests.

It will be interesting to see what happens and how all of this pans out.

But in the meantime keep an eye out for the Common Pass and the IATA Travel Pass digital health passports.

I am keeping my followers up to date on everything to do with vaccines and international travel in my twice monthly newsletter. The newsletter is primarily about travel in Italy. If you are interested in Italy travel stories and want to stay abreast of covid vaccine + travel news you are welcome to join us here