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What You Need to Know About Vaccine Passports

President Joe Biden recently announced that 90 percent of American adults will be eligible to receive their coronavirus vaccine by Mid-April, with all adults vaccine eligible no later than May 1st.  As more and more people get vaccinated against the coronavirus, many are wondering how to prove inoculation and whether or not that is necessary in order for normalcy to return. Enter vaccine passports.

What Are Vaccine Passports?

Frequent travelers might already be familiar with vaccine cards, which are physical cards (typically yellow) that show proof of vaccination and are required in order to travel to certain areas. A vaccine passport will function similarly to the already established vaccine cards. It will prove that someone has been vaccinated against COVID, some editions might even show negative test results to make travel easier.

In late January, President Biden issued an executive order directing government agencies to “assess the feasibility” of linking coronavirus vaccine certificates with other vaccination documents, and producing a digital version. And the U.S. is not alone. Governments, like Spain and Denmark, already have plans to roll out a digital vaccination passport later this year. Further, corporations and nongovernmental organizations have plans to start using a digital pass to prove inoculation.

Objections to Vaccine Passports and Challenges that Lie Ahead

Digitization itself and equity are the main challenges standing in the way of the vaccine passport. Technology experts say that creating an ethical system will take time and should not be rushed. It is also important that the technology is open-source and accessible; it should not end up in the control of any one entity. For people without smartphones, the option of paper proof remains, but even that needs to be standardized. Health professionals and technologists alike worry that digital documents showing vaccine status may leave people behind and intensify existing public health inequities. It also remains unclear what U.S. citizens think. With the country politically divided over coronavirus mitigation strategies, like masks and social distancing, a vaccine passport system is likely going to be a hard sell.

Creating a standard document or app that is accepted across the world, protects users’ privacy, and is accessible to people regardless of wealth and smartphone access is not going to be easy.

The Benefits of a Vaccine Passport

There will likely be aspects of public life, such as travel or entertainment, that only people who have been vaccinated will be allowed to participate in. Already we see that many countries require proof of a negative test for entry; a vaccine passport would be a natural extension of the protocols already in place. From airlines to sports arenas, foreign countries to concert venues, proof of inoculation is essential for rebounding safely. Everyone wants life to go back to normal and finding a way to show proof of vaccination is a way for us to return to normalcy faster.

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