Mar 18, 2021 - Health

EU moves toward vaccine passports

Illustration of a passport with a syringe on the cover
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The EU unveiled its proposal for vaccine passports this week, offering the most detailed picture yet of how international travel might resume in the coming months.

Why it matters: People are desperate to travel, and tourism-reliant countries like Greece are desperate to receive them. Vaccines should provide a path out of closed borders and mandatory quarantines, but there’s no universal way to track who has actually been vaccinated.

Driving the news: The EU “Green Certificate” — available in digital or paper form — would allow all EU residents to prove that they’ve been vaccinated, recently tested negative, or already recovered from COVID-19. The aim is to roll out the passports before the summer travel season.

  • The European Commission suggests that those who’ve had an EU-approved vaccine be free to cross borders without any quarantine requirements.
  • People from outside the EU, including Americans, could also potentially benefit from the system when traveling to Europe.

Yes, but: Some EU members, including Hungary, are using Chinese or Russian vaccines, which won’t automatically be covered by the passport.

  • It’s also not clear how long immunity lasts or how effective vaccines are at preventing transmission, further complicating the passport picture.
  • There are also ethical concerns about opening up travel to people fortunate enough to be vaccinated when access varies so widely around the world.

But some airlines and airports are already starting to roll out a global platform called CommonPass, which allows people to digitally document their COVID-19 status — through test results and, eventually, vaccinations — while protecting their health data privacy, Axios transportation correspondent Joann Muller notes.

  • Several other such systems are currently in development.

What to watch: While vaccine passports have a clear application in international travel, it’s less clear if and how they’ll feature in day-to-day life.

  • Israelis can already show a QR code at bars, gyms and theaters to reveal their vaccination status and enter if they’ve received both doses.
  • But the barriers to such a system being widely rolled out in the U.S. are probably too high, Axios’ Bryan Walsh writes.
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