With the ubiquity of vaccines and immunization and the persistent itch for travel, there has been a global push for a system to identify vaccinated and non-vaccinated individuals. How have governments and countries been able to monitor the health and safety of all incoming and outgoing passengers? Enter: the vaccine passport.

What are COVID-19 Vaccine Passports?

To clarify, a COVID-19 vaccine passport, or a "digital health certificate" is a piece of documentation issued by a country's national government that is considered proof of a person's COVID-19 vaccination. With a vaccine passport, travellers would be permitted to travel domestically, or internationally and are generally subject to less COVID-19 restrictions, such as quarantine or presenting a negative COVID-19 test result.

The vaccine passport is also being used in certain countries for domestic use to identify those who have been vaccinated and to prevent access to certain public spaces or activities to those who have not.

Current Developments

Through the turbulent years of COVID-19, vaccine passports have been increasingly adopted by countries across the world. Today, over 144 countries require some form of vaccine passport for travel. Though requiring vaccines for international travel is not a novel concept (ex. many countries require yellow fever, measles, or tuberculosis immunization before travel), the concept of requiring such a documentation for domestic travel or access to certain public spaces and venues is certainly new.

In any circumstance, for such a digital certificate or passport to work will require at least three things:

  1. Access to a country's official vaccinations records;
  2. A secure method of identifying an individual and linking them to their health record; and
  3. Adherence to a common and set standard by relevant international organizations.

With this new policy, public opinion on this issue has also been mixed and politicized. Many worry the passports bring about greater divisiveness and discrimination. Individuals are also not confident that their sensitive health data will be stored securely and not put to other uses by app developers and governments. In fact, a study from Imperial College London has found that people who feel their sense of autonomy, or free will, is unmet by government incentives like vaccine passports are less likely to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

As plans for the vaccine passport expands and is required to access domestic services and public spaces, many human rights groups and privacy organizations have warned of further marginalization to the most vulnerable members of society. A growing concern is how this digital infrastructure may be developed or repurposed later as there have been few discussions on placing time restrictions on these digital identification systems post-pandemic. A recent survey conducted in the UK also indicate public concerns on how minorities would be discriminated through vaccine passports as it separate society into the 'haves' and 'have-nots'.

Yet, though there are legitimate concerns regarding such a vaccine passport, many countries have nonetheless advanced with the implementation of such a digital system.

Examples of COVID-19 Vaccine Passports Around the World

  1. Australia: Launched an International COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate a free and secure means of proving COVID-19 vaccination certificate and immunisation history when travelling overseas.

  2. Canada: Launched the Canadian COVID-19 proof of vaccination, a QR-code, which is to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination history when travelling to and within Canada.

  3. China: The Health Declaration QR-code is now available for foreign nationals traveling to China, which can be used to present negative results of COVID-19 tests and anti-body test results.

  4. EU-wide: EU citizens and residents will now be able to have their Digital COVID Certificates issued and verified across the EU. It would allow anyone vaccinated against COVID-19, or those tested negative, or those recently recovered, to travel freely within the region. Additionally, 35 non-EU countries (and territories) have joined the EU Digital COVID Certificate system. These countries include: Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Benin, Cabo Verde, El Salvador, Faroe Islands, Georgia, Israel, Iceland, Jordan, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Panama, San Marino, Serbia, Singapore, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Tunisia, Togo, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and the Crown Dependencies, Uruguay, and The Vatican.

  5. Israel: The "Green Pass" proving one's vaccination status was launched, which can be generated via the website, a smartphone app, or a self-service station.

  6. Malaysia: Foreigners may now download MySejahtera prior to arriving in Malaysia, which is an app that authenticates COVID-19 vaccination certificates. Upon verification, the app will generate a QR Code Scanner to simplify the arrival check-in process. 

  7. New Zealand:  Through the My Covid Record website, the phone or in person at a pharmacy, New Zealanders will be able to access their International Travel Vaccination Certificate which will enable travel overseas.

  8. Thailand: By creating the Thai Pass System, the documentation process of travelers entering Thailand becomes more efficient as it collects both travel and health information like arrival cards and vaccine certificates.

  9. UK: The NHS COVID Pass now not only shares vaccination or test results securely but is also used to demonstrate proof of a booster or third dose for outbound international trave.

  10. Vietnam: Vietnam has implemented vaccine passports for people to present vaccination records when travelling abroad, which is accepted by 14 countries and territories. Separately, Vietnam also recognized certificates/passports from 79 nations and territories, travellers can use them directly when entering Vietnam.

  11. The Philippines: VaxCert PH, a platform providing digital vaccination certificates to fully vaccinated foreign nationals visiting the Philippines, was launched recently.

Present and Future Impacts

With the rise of COVID-19 vaccines becoming more available and accessible, countries continue to reopen.

Though there remains many opinions and human rights concerns regarding vaccine passports, the current projected trend is that more countries will require passengers to have a COVID-19 vaccine passport for travel, both international and domestic.

As such, for individuals seeking immigration or simply travelling abroad, vaccinations are now a near global pre-requisite.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.