As vaccine launches accelerate around the world, the focus is now on vaccines of another type: vaccine passports.
Last week, the International Air Transport Association announced the launch of its new digital travel pass as “the way to go” to resume international travel without quarantine.
The application, which is being tested by 30 operators, will allow governments and airlines to collect, access and share encrypted information related to the Covid-19 test of passengers. and vaccination status before the trip.
The International Chamber of Commerce and the World Economic Forum have created similar applications, ICC AOKpass and CommonPass, to allow travelers to document their medical status electronically. Countries like Denmark and Sweden are launching their own health passports, and even the tech giants are looking to get involved.
What are digital health passports and will they facilitate the return to heaven this year?
What is a vaccine passport?
Also known as a digital health pass, a vaccine passport is the digital documentation that a person has been vaccinated against a virus, in this case Covid.
Stored in a phone or digital wallet, the data is usually presented as a QR code and can also show whether a person has tested negative for a virus.
Digital health passports are being tested as a way to validate the proof of Covid-19 and the vaccination status of people.
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This documentation is unprecedented. For decades, people have had to show physical “yellow cards” as proof of vaccination against diseases such as cholera, yellow fever and rubella when traveling to certain countries.
However, this is the first time the industry has endorsed an electronic alternative designed to improve verifiability and circumvent some of the delays caused by paper counterparts.
“Imagine the scene where 180,000 people present a sheet of paper that needs to be reviewed and validated,” said Mike Tansey, Managing Director. at Accenture, referring to the number of daily passengers before Covid at Singapore’s Changi Airport.
Will we need digital health passports to travel?
Tansey, who leads Accenture’s travel and hospitality division at APAC, has been working with some of the major airlines on their digital health pass strategies, including three in the US and several in Asia-Pacific.
He told CNBC’s Global Traveler that those plans have been “accelerated” since the launch of the vaccine, and to him, the need for such passes is clear.
“The obvious answer is yes, we do,” Tansey said, when asked if we would need digital health passes to resume travel.
He called the debates a “red herring.”
“Governments may not say you need to have one, but the implications of not doing so will be so ridiculous that traveling will not be worth it,” he said, referring to the extensive testing and “draconian” quarantines.
What are the security issues?
Tansey is not alone. Other experts agree that digital health passports can be the fastest and most efficient way to resume international travel.
Jase Ramsey, a professor of management at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Lutgert College of Business, agreed that the probability of adoption was “very high.” But he noted that concerns about security and personal data may make consumers less willing to adopt digital health passes than their physical alternatives.
“As with any application that stores medical records, there will be concerns about privacy and fraud,” Ramsey said.
Vaccine passports electronically store medical information that is displayed as a QR code.
da-kuk | E + | fake images
Accredify is a Singapore-based document accreditation company whose technology is used under the Singapore government’s mandatory Covid-19 pre-travel health screenings. He claims that the appeal of digital accreditation systems, such as his, which is based on the blockchain, is that they are tamper-proof and therefore cannot be faked.
“Medical documents stored privately and securely in the app are accessible only to users, giving them the decision of who to share their medical records with and when,” a spokesperson said via email.
The resistance of the travelers may be exaggerated. A recent study by travel news site The Vacationer found that 73.6% of Americans surveyed say they would use a Covid passport or health app so airlines and border authorities can check their vaccination status and the results of the tests. tests.
What are the challenges for health passports?
The success of digital health passports will depend on the effectiveness of the vaccines. Little is known about whether vaccines prevent the spread of Covid, although research is ongoing.
The World Health Organization has called for caution regarding health passes, telling authorities and travel operators not to present proof of vaccination as a condition for international travel.
“This is because the efficacy of vaccines in preventing transmission is not yet clear and the global supply of vaccines is limited,” said a WHO spokesman.
Coordinating the various existing and pending vaccine passports on the market, and ensuring that user certifications are tied to verified and approved medical facilities, will be a huge challenge.
“For vaccine passports to be a practical tool internationally, there will need to be a standardized platform that crosses all boundaries, like the current passport system,” said Dr. Harry Severance, assistant professor at the Faculty of Medicine. from Duke University.
WHO is working with agencies such as the International Air Transport Association and the International Civil Aviation Organization to develop standards for digital vaccination cards. He added that his position on health passes “will evolve as the evidence on new and existing Covid-19 vaccines is updated.”
What about the social implications?
Then, of course, there are the social, legal and political ramifications of a system based on unequal global access to vaccines and technology.
Roughly 3.6 billion people around the world cannot access the Internet, according to the WHO, and more than 1.1 billion cannot officially prove their identity. For many, paper passes will remain essential.
Access to vaccines is still far from equitable worldwide
Luis Alvarez | DigitalVision | fake images
“People in different countries, regions or communities may not have access to Covid-19 vaccines or testing,” said Dr. Sharona Hoffman, professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and noted that low-income countries may not receive vaccines until 2023 or beyond. “A policy that prevents them from traveling or obtaining other services could therefore be discriminatory and exacerbate socioeconomic disparities.”
These systems could also set a precedent among other groups equally eager to reopen, such as restaurants and event venues. In fact, Israel has already created a “green passport” for vaccinated citizens to have access to public places.
This week, some US states moved to lift mask mandates, which could exacerbate this problem.
“As one community moves in this direction, many, many more will follow. As these decisions spread across the country, you may find that vaccine ‘carding’ is becoming the standard,” Severance said.
What could this mean for the future of travel?
Ultimately, the resumption of international travel will depend both on the willingness of countries to reopen and on existing travel verification technology.
In Asia-Pacific, where borders remain largely closed to tourists, governments may tend to bilateral deals, or “travel bubbles,” with select neighbors before opening up more widely, Accenture’s Tansey said.
“The The reality … is that we are still six months away from any significant air travel, “he said.” They will only be agreements with one or two places at a time. “
Still, with much of the technology in place and with society moving toward an increasingly digitized future, today’s developments in digital health passports could leave the travel industry, and society, better prepared for any. Potential turbulence looming.
“If we evolve to an internationally recognized system of health passports (or) monitoring, etc., that will be one facet of a post-preparedness system that will possibly allow us to survive a next pandemic, which may have worse dynamics than Covid-19. , “said Severance.