Will you need a vaccine passport to travel in 2021?

Hand holding a covid vaccine passport
Photo via Marco Verch Professional Photographer/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the travel industry, canceling trips for people around the globe. After more than a year of canceled plans and postponed vacations, vaccinations are finally allowing people to resume their travel plans. Before they head off to their long-awaited destinations, however, people want to know if they will need a vaccine passport to travel this year.

Vaccine passports—also called “health certificates or travel passes,” according to USA Today—are records of a traveler’s COVID-19 health particulars. They include information on whether the holder has tested negative for the virus, as well as their vaccination information. They’ve been floated as a potential way to prove that travelers have received the vaccine and, thus, are cleared to travel without risk to other passengers.

More than 148 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been distributed so far in the U.S. alone, according to Bloomberg. Across the globe, more than 574 million doses have been administered across 141 countries, as of March 31. An average of 2.77 million doses is being administered each day in the U.S., constantly boosting the number of individuals capable of traveling safely.

The struggling airline industry, as well as other travel markets (including cruise lines), are desperate to reignite travel. They see the potential for vaccine passports to ease concerns over the spread of the virus, particularly internationally. The threat of the virus, combined with required tests and quarantine periods, has turned many would-be travelers away.

With a vaccine passport, these tests and quarantine periods could be avoided, making a 2021 journey a far more appealing prospect.

There is already a version of a vaccine passport, called a “Travel Pass,” being tested by the trade group for global airlines, the International Air Transport Association. IBM is developing one of its own, according to USA Today, called a “Digital Health Pass.”

Travel companies, eager to give a boost to the industry, are hoping to see vaccine passports become commonplace. They would most commonly be used on international flights. Many countries have managed their COVID-19 cases remarkably well and are not eager to invite the virus back within their borders. The implementation of vaccine passports to travel would provide destinations with far more assurance that they won’t see a resulting COVID spike.

In some countries, passports of this kind may be—and in some cases already are—used in a variety of situations. Vaccine passports may eventually be used to gain entry to large events, including concerts and sporting events, as well as to travel. Israel’s “Green Passport” works within these bounds.

The issue of needing vaccine passports to travel has already become political. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has rejected the notion, noting that it is “completely unacceptable” for the government or private sector to dictate how Americans “participate in normal society.”

DeSantis has gone so far as to implement emergency rules prohibiting businesses from requiring vaccine passports. 

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Sources: USA Today, Bloomberg, NPR

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