The State of Vaccine Passports: The World and the U.S.A.

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At LHA Travel, we have been monitoring the Covid-19 passports development globally for nearly half a year. We have come to realize that the Covid-19 passport bears little resemblance to the traditional passport – an official document issued by a nation that is recognizable by all other nations for travel purposes. Currently there is no “passport” issued for the purpose of travel for Covid-19 related restrictions recognizable by all government groups. However, the U.S.’s CDC white card continues to be recognized not only for access to local establishments, but also for international travel to show proof of vaccination. As such, it comes closest to a vaccine passport as any in existence.

The World Health Organization (WHO) remains opposed to the use of a Covid-19 “vaccine passport,” for health and socioeconomic reasons:

At the present time, it is WHO’s position that national authorities and conveyance operators should not introduce requirements of proof of Covid-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry, given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission. In addition, considering that there is limited availability of vaccines, preferential vaccination of travellers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe Covid-19 disease. WHO also recommends that people who are vaccinated should not be exempt from complying with other travel risk-reduction measures.

The WHO has formed a task force to study different models for vaccination verification, so its future position may change. Many countries are moving ahead with recognizing vaccinations for travel. Some intergovernmental organizations have combined efforts to create a platform to streamline the vaccination, testing, and recovery verification process for travel. 

Current intergovernmental initiatives for harmonizing vaccine and testing validation includes the EU, the African Union (AU), and Japan. The EU’s Digital Corona Certificate allows travelers in the EU to check and verify vaccines, testing, and recovery documents issued within the EU’s jurisdiction. This initiative was rolled out on July 1st. However, the adoption rate and document recognition are not uniform, so you should still check each country’s requirements prior to entry. It is our understanding that traditional proofs of vaccination (paper certificates) remain acceptable for travel purposes if you cannot produce the digital version.

Next is the African Union’s Trust Traveler Initiative, a web app that allows travelers to check entry requirements for each African country. The app provides a listing of labs where travelers can get tested prior to travel. At the moment, the labs listed on the Trusted Traveler’s list for the U.S.A. is short, with the names of major health institutions and cities missing. We think that the list probably represents a non-exhaustive list of labs, as opposed to a complete list of labs where you can get a test that will be recognizable by your destination African country. 

Finally, Japan will start accepting applications for its “vaccine passports” from July 26th. Those vaccinated in Japan and approved via its application process will get a paper certificate saying they have been vaccinated. A digital version may follow at a later date. The Japanese government has expressed hope that its “vaccine passport” version will be accepted by over 10 countries. 

Domestically in the U.S.A., many states have already taken a position on the “vaccine passport” or verification app. Currently, four states are using some app for digital verification, while 19 states have banned the use of apps to verify or require vaccinations. For instance, New Jersey is a state currently using a verification app called Docket. The New Jersey state government, however, opposes the moniker “passport” to describe its app, stating that Docket is simply a tool “to give residents easy access to their Covid-19 vaccination record, especially if their vaccination card has been damaged or lost.” U.S. airlines have also tested out some apps to verify Covid-19 tests, and to facilitate boarding, while not making their use a requirement for boarding. Travelers remain able to appear at the check-in counters with their traditional vaccine card or Covid-19 test result from a reputable authority to travel.

So, if you are traveling to Azerbaijan this summer, you may find a requirement that says passengers over the age of 18 must have a “Covid-19 passport.” Don’t fret. What the government means is that you must have proof of vaccination or proof that you have recovered from Covid-19, using a CDC card or a medical note from a trusted medical provider.

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