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Will I Need a COVID-19 Vaccine Passport to Travel?

COVID Vaccine passport.

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Key Takeaways

  • Vaccine passports are electronic or paper passes that display a person’s vaccination status. 
  • Currently, vaccine passports are not offered by an official U.S. government entity and are only offered through private organizations. 
  • Experts explain that vaccine passports may create unnecessary barriers for folks who can’t access vaccinations readily, especially those living in countries outside the U.S.

To date, over 486 million COVID-19 doses have been administered in 137 countries, sending a wave of hope that domestic and international travel might return to a pre-pandemic state sooner rather than later.

Tourism-reliant countries, like Greece, are currently pushing for vaccine passports as a means for bolstering tourism and, in turn, economies.

Will you need to carry a digital proof of COVID-19 vaccination to travel outside of the U.S.? Experts weigh in on how vaccine passports might be implemented.

What Is a Vaccine Passport?

Oxiris Barbot, MD, physician and senior fellow for public health and social justice at the JPB Foundation, tells Verywell that vaccine passports aren’t exactly real passports. “The phrase is how some are referring to electronic or paper proof of valid immunization,” Barbot says. “They are not part of the usual passport process.”

Vaccine passports are also commonly referred to as health certificates, travel passes, or health passports. 

Vaccine passports would allow travelers to provide individual documentation or proof of their vaccination status, according to Nitin Desai, MD, an internist practicing in North Carolina, and chief medical officer and CEO of COVID Pre-Check, a private digital health passport platform where people can input their COVID-19 symptoms, test results, and vaccination status. 

How Would it work?

COVID Pre-Check is among the various existing companies that are developing and testing vaccine passports. On COVID Pre-Check's platform, travelers would input their last name, date of birth, and cell phone number. “We are very careful about privacy and security,” Desai says.

Once your personal and COVID-19 immunization information is entered, vaccination status would be verified by an electronic medical record or a physician. “The user then is able to display the COVID status via smartphone which displays a QR code,” Desai explains. “Businesses or authorities can read that QR code with a device like a smartphone or tablet.” 

While vaccine passports have been tested by private entities such as technology and travel companies, it is unclear whether they will be accepted and rolled out globally.

So far, Israel—the country with the highest vaccination rate in the world—released their version of vaccine passport in late February. Their "Green Pass," which is a paper and digital vaccination certificate, is available to anyone who has received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine through Israel's health maintenance organizations or another accredited vaccination service or has proof of previous COVID-19 infection.

This passport will be used to offer access to places like hotels, gyms, theaters, restaurants, and more. Most recently, the European Union has proposed implementing a digital green certificate in a similar vein.

What This Means For You

Vaccine passports are still being developed and tested, so it's not yet known if they will be implemented in the U.S. If you are planning to travel domestically or internationally, you can check the state or countries’ COVID-19 policies on testing and vaccine requirements here.

Vaccine Passport Poses Barriers

While some say that vaccine passports are a golden ticket to international travel, Barbot explains that they have limitations and would create barriers for those who can’t access vaccines. “It runs the risk of stigmatizing people nationally and internationally who can’t get access to vaccination,” Barbot explains.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, despite high-income countries accounting for only 19% of the global adult population, they have purchased more than 50% of available COVID-19 vaccine doses.

In a recent press briefing, a senior World Health Organization official advised against the implementation of COVID-19 passports globally—citing that there are ethical considerations to instituting such a rule for travel.

Barbot also says that having vaccine passports could run the risk that people will let their guards down during a time when scientists are still learning about the effectiveness and duration of immunity the vaccines offer. 

Vaccine passports may provide a false sense of security of the potential risks of transmission during air travel. “Vaccines have been assessed for their efficacy in preventing severe illness and death,” she says. “We are just now learning more about their ability to abate transmission.” 

Because vaccine passport systems are mostly privatized and have no official entity for regulation, it can make the system “ripe for fraud,” Barbot adds. 

Staying Safe

While a global vaccination effort is underway, Barbot says that countries should maximize their efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible while assessing the efficacy against emerging variants and adjusting as needed. 

Still, there is limited research on how the current COVID-19 vaccines hold up against the documented variants. Because there is also limited data on the duration of immunity on current COVID-19 vaccines, Barbot stresses the importance of continuing to practice social distancing, mask-wearing, and handwashing until more information and data becomes available. 

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Bloomberg. More than 486 million shots given: COVID-19 tracker. Updated March 24, 2021. 

  2. Israel Ministry of Health. What is a green pass?

  3. Kaiser Family Foundation. Global COVID-19 vaccine access: a snapshot of inequality. Updated March 17, 2021.