COVID-19 'Vaccine Passports' and Travel
As more people are getting vaccinations against the coronavirus, travel and other activities are expected to get on track, raising questions about how to prove immunisation and so-called "vaccine passports."
It's been over a year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. And while average daily cases in India are still hovering at around 50,000 per day, as per Union Health Ministry data, there are signs that some individuals are ready to travel again, despite the appeal to stay put.
During the pandemic, Indian aviation closed the international sector last year May, whereas the domestic sector reopened on May 25, 2020, with a flight capacity of around 80%. In addition to that, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) directed all airport operators to look out for the possibility of the passengers violating COVID norms and take punitive action such as heavy fines, to serve as a deterrent for the violation.
Last month, Israel became the first country to introduce a certification system, Vaccine passports, to access certain facilities and events. In fact, frequent international travellers might be familiar with the term 'Vaccine passport', which is typically a yellow paper showing a persons' vaccinations. There are certain areas that require proof of vaccination against illnesses like yellow fever or tuberculosis. And its biggest impact comes from boosting tourism to resume trips, providing a massive boon to a travel industry that has suffered dramatic losses during the pandemic.
Nonetheless, experts maintain the idea faces several concerns that are difficult to address. Since the immunisation against the coronavirus has been deemed to be the inflection point at which life would start to get back to normal. Israel’s “vaccine passport” is intended for public facilities including restaurants, gyms, and hotels in the country, though certification of this kind has a bearing on the full reinitialization of international air travel.
Furthermore, various other associations and non-profits have been issuing their versions for international travel. The International Air Transport Association, the global trade body representing airlines, is developing an app named IATA Travel Pass that will provide airlines and other aviation industry stakeholders with a common platform to check for the data of immunisation and its validity. On the other side, IBM is working on a "digital health pass" as a way "to bring people back to a physical location, such as a workplace, school, stadium or airline flight." The non-profit Commons Project has been trying out an app called CommonPass, which contains a passenger’s vaccination record.
This will bring the main benefit to the tourism and travel industry, which is seen as being at the heart of the Covid-19 spread and is worst hit by the pandemic. However, a major difficulty in implementation will be the lack of uniformity across jurisdictions in the requirement and issuance of proofs of vaccination.
In an interim position paper on vaccine passports, the WHO last month spoke against the introduction of COVID-19 'Vaccine Passports', given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.
“Besides, considering that there is limited availability of vaccines, preferred vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe Covid-19 disease,” WHO stated.
“In the current context”, the WHO added, “introducing a requirement of vaccination as a condition for travel has the potential to hinder equitable global access to a limited vaccine supply and would be unlikely to maximize the benefits of vaccination for individual societies and overall global health”.
While providing coronavirus vaccine passports could help provide a feeling of safety while travelling, yet health officials say it is too soon to know if such a feeling is warranted. Moreover, the question arises whether a coronavirus vaccine passport needs to be different from the vaccine card system already in place. Besides, vaccines are not a free pass to get out of wearing a mask.
In addition, there are also privacy concerns to consider, as people may not be willing to share their health data with companies.