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What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus (COVID‑19) Pandemic

Course Number: 652

Vaccine Passports

On March 17, 2021 the European Union proposed a vaccine passport plan to simplify summer travel. It is suggested that the passports be digital or paper documents, so travelers can prove that they have been vaccinated, that they recovered from the virus, or recently tested negative for it. In many cases, this could free travelers from quarantine and testing obligations. It may be similar to passes currently in use in Israel, where QR codes allow fully vaccinated people access to gyms or restaurants. This plan, however, is not without controversy.

The World Health Organization (WHO) stated that it is not encouraging the use of “vaccine passports” for both “ethical and scientific” concerns.80 At the present time, it is WHO’s position that national authorities and conveyance operators should not introduce requirements of proof of COVID‑19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry, given that there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission. In addition, considering that there is limited availability of vaccines, preferential vaccination of travelers could result in inadequate supplies of vaccines for priority populations considered at high risk of severe COVID‑19 disease. WHO also recommends that people who are vaccinated should not be exempt from complying with other travel risk-reduction measures, such as masking and social distancing.80 In an updated statement, WHO believes that there is currently insufficient evidence about the effectiveness of antibody-mediated immunity to guarantee the accuracy of an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate.81 The use of vaccine passports may increase the risks of continued transmission. As new evidence becomes available, WHO will update this scientific brief.81 Extensive delivery of vaccinations will most likely help to limit SARS‑CoV‑2 transmission. Until vaccines become widely available and herd immunity prevails, control measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and frequent handwashing may continue to be necessary to reduce transmission.