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Vaccine Passports: Just Explanations, No Hype

9 Apr, 2021

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Travel has restarted and with vaccines widely available, we can only expect there to be more people flying – particularly since the CDC has given its approval to safe travel.

Accordingly, a host of apps and programs are available to help flyers consolidate their health information, including records of health tests and proof of vaccines.

Collectively called “vaccine passports,” these programs are designed to help streamline travel by putting information within easy reach, particularly when flying to destinations where it may be a concern. And though the term "passport" sounds official, they're not issued by the State Department.

It’s important to note that the term, "vaccine passport," is just a generic way of referring to information on a person's health, compiled to make travel easier. It could be electronically based, such as on a mobile app, or it could be a written certificate or document, for those who don't have smartphones.

While in many cases, it is for international travel that the most extensive vaccine and health information may be required, it behooves domestic travelers to be aware of the various apps, services and platforms – particularly since the most recent figure shows that only 16.9 percent of Americans have been vaccinated.

And, says the travel blog, The Points Guy, “the U.S. is an outlier here. Many of the destinations most popular with American travelers still lag far behind. Mexico, for instance, has vaccinated just 0.75% of its citizens, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.”

Here's the bottom line that might surprise some people: the vaccine passport, taken here to mean proof of vaccination being required in order to travel, is not a new concept. For example, proof of immunization against yellow fever (another airborne disease) has long been needed to travel to countries like Ghana and Brazil. 

CNN notes: “Some health experts argue that such proof of vaccination can be the ticket back to normalcy. It could reward people for getting vaccinated by allowing them into a crowded concert or ballgame and offer them peace of mind that the person next to them has been immunized, too — thus helping to make crowded places safer. New York was the first state to issue a digital vaccine passport using IBM's Excelsior Pass app that displays a personalized QR code verifying vaccine status. The state tested the app at a Brooklyn Nets basketball game and a New York Rangers hockey game last month.”

It will surprise nobody that there has been a wave of development in the technology of health wallets, mobile apps and other methods of creating a streamlined portfolio of health information that travelers can use. And, of course, as the world moves forward, it may be that some of these platforms are combined or eliminated — or one may come to the fore as the preferred program across all airlines and all destinations. It is, after all, a new and dynamic landscape.

The Points Guy provides a great review of the various programs; it can be found here. What follows is a synopsis of information presented in that article. 

Clear Health Pass: Clear’s Health Pass feature is already being used to verify negative tests required at some sports arenas and to approve tourists for quarantine-free travel to Hawaii. Delta and United flyers traveling nonstop from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL) can securely link their test results and verify their identity, making it easy to identify travelers approved to avoid mandatory or recommended quarantine periods.

CommonPass: CommonPass is an independent app that collects a user’s COVID-19 status and verifies his or her identity. It then produces a unique QR verification code that airlines and countries can rely on to ensure that a traveler does not have the virus. The makers of the app say CommonPass lets travelers access their lab results and vaccination records.

United Airlines hosted volunteers to trial the CommonPass app on a flight from London Heathrow (LHR) to Newark Liberty International (EWR) last October. Japan-based All Nippon Airways tested the app on its Tokyo-Haneda (HND) to New York route on March 29.

CommonPass says the app is “soon to be available” in the Apple app store and Google Play store, but that several airlines, including JetBlue and Lufthansa, began the rollout to passengers in December from New York, Boston, London and Hong Kong.

IATA Travel Pass: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) will host verified test and vaccine information on its Travel Pass app. IATA says its travel pass will be “more secure and efficient” than the paper form often used.

IATA is partnering with several major airlines, including Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Ethopian Airlines. Pilots of the app began in late 2020, and IATA is targeting a mid-April launch for iOS users and a late April launch for Android phones.

IBM Digital Health Pass: IBM’s Digital Health Pass is an app that uses blockchain technology to allow individuals to share their health status through an encrypted digital wallet. This pass has integrated with Salesforce to help businesses and schools verify test results and vaccine status. (This is the pass New York used for its sports events referenced above). The app is now available for both iOS and Android users — and businesses that are interested in using the technology can download the companion scanner app (also available for iOS and Android) to begin participating.

VeriFLY: American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia have introduced a free mobile health passport called VeriFLY that can be used to fly into the U.S. from abroad. The app certifies negative test results and required travel documentation to streamline the travel journey and is voluntary. An executive on a British Airways media call last month said the app uses the same secure mobile wallet as a digital bank account. American Airlines passengers can use VeriFLY on international flights to the U.S. and direct and connecting flights from American’s domestic airports to destinations like the United Kingdom and Jamaica.

V-Health: The U.K.-based V-Health app includes a built-in contact tracing tool and a way to make an appointment with testing centers nearby, which can then be added to the passport. The app is available for Apple and Android devices. Many vaccine passports will use a QR code to certify test results, but the V-Health Passport won’t be one of them. Instead, it will use its own technology. V-Health Passport’s technology is already being included in a platform called HELIIX Health Pass, which has been introduced in Las Vegas as a way to reopen the city. It’s also available as a standalone app in the Apple app store and Google Play.

…And of course, there’s your vaccine card: The one you got when you got vaccinated. The CDC is recommending you take a picture of it (in case you lose it). Time will tell whether that card will be enough to get you on a plane (if it ever comes to that). But if you’re worried about carrying it around and getting it grubby or torn, the office supply chain Staples has offered to laminate the card for free to anyone who brings theirs in.

Oh, and if you lose it, don’t panic. It’s absolutely possible to get a replacement.

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