After a year of health anxiety, social distancing, lockdown rage and enough historical events to fill multiple textbooks, we can see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel—vaccinations are being distributed around the world, and the vaccine passport is soon to follow.
Currently, New York is the only state in America to offer an approved vaccine passport, a voluntary electronic vaccination record dubbed the Excelsior Pass that the state government launched in March. And it's pretty easy to get—I should know. Following the required two-week period after getting my second vaccine shot in NYC, I signed up for the pass online for free and without any hassle.
Set up like an airline boarding pass, the Excelsior Pass is basically a scannable QR code that can be stored in your smartphone (like in your Apple Wallet) or printed out to verify that you've received a negative COVID-19 test or an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine, such as the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson jabs. Along with a government ID, you can use it as a fast pass to gain entry to sporting events, live performances, and other in-person activities—basically, all of the stuff we've been dreaming about while stuck on the sofa binging Netflix for a year.
But will the Excelsior Pass, the NHS COVID 19 passport in the U.K. and other vaccine passports be required for travel in the near future? Here's everything we know.
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What is a vaccine passport?
Okay, first and foremost, what actually is a vaccine passport? Well, if you've traveled internationally in the past or even simply enrolled in a new school, you've likely had to provide some official record of immunizations against various diseases. The present-day COVID vaccine "passport" is exactly that, simply a way to present proof—whether physical or digital—that you've received vaccination against the coronavirus.
The vaccine passport isn't a "get out of COVID jail free" card, however—even if you have vaccination against COVID-19 and physical proof of it, you should still be adhering to health guidelines including mask wearing, social distancing, and hand hygiene. A pandemic's still happening, people!
It is also not considered an "immunity pass," as research surrounding herd immunity is occurring as we speak. For that reason, Excelsior Pass is only valid for 180 days, upon which you can redownload it.
How to get a U.S. vaccine passport
It's as easy as adding the best meditation apps to your phone. Fully vaccinated folks (that means two weeks out from their second shot of a two-dose vaccine like Pfizer and Moderna, or two weeks after a single-dose vaccine like Johnson & Johnson) can simply download the mobile app to their smartphone and upload their proof of vaccination, as well as coronavirus PCR and antigen test results, or other health waivers. (In the case of Excelsior Pass, the information needed to verify your vaccination was first and last name, birthdate, and to confirm where and when you received your shots.)
An electronic certificate can then be printed or, better yet, saved directly to your phone or email—that's way easier to keep a hold of than those small, paper COVID-19 Vaccination Record Cards they give you after your shots are administered. The digital passes can then be shown to gain entrance to certain venues, businesses and, maybe one day, airports.
How to get the NHS COVID 19 passport in the U.K.
Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport of the United Kingdom, announced in late April 2021 that Britons will soon be on the receiving end of their own vaccine passport, which will be used for travel abroad to approved destinations without having to quarantine upon return to the U.K. (A negative COVID test will still be required before their departure from and arrival back to the U.K.)
Shapps clarified that the U.K. vaccine passport will be "the NHS app that is used for people when they book appointments with the NHS and so on, to be able to show you've had a vaccine or that you've had testing." It will not be the NHS COVID app, which is currently used for contract-tracing purposes and to gain access to venues like restaurants and bars. Instead, it is the NHS smartphone app that folks have been using to book appointments with their general practitioners.
Speaking to Sky News on April 28th about the upcoming vaccine passport, Shapps said: “We do need to make sure that we do this very, very carefully … But, in the next couple of weeks, I’ll come back on and I’ll be able to tell you about which countries will have made it into the traffic light system – and that green list in particular.”
He continued: "I'm working internationally with partners across the world to make sure that system can be internationally recognized."
Do you need a vaccine passport to travel?
Speaking of travel, one of the major concerns around the idea of a vaccine passport is whether or not you'll need one once domestic and international travel opens up again. Frankly, the answer's complicated.
In early April 2021, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the Biden administration would not issue a federal vaccine passport. Psaki told reporters: "The government is not now, nor will we be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential. There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential."
However, while the federal government has denounced the creation of an official U.S. vaccine passport, individual states have not. Along with the aforementioned New York, states like Hawaii have announced plans for their own vaccine passport program. Governors from other states, including Florida and Texas, have ixnayed the idea completely, calling the idea of a vaccine passport an invasion of citizens' privacy.
Outside of America, most countries already require proof of a recent negative COVID test and/or a quarantine period before travelers can cross their borders. And some are adding vaccine passports to the mix. In February, Israel launched a "green passport" to allow vaccinated locals and travelers to enter restaurants, attend public gatherings, etc. Japan will reportedly release an official vaccine passport this month. China and Denmark are working to roll out their own versions, as is the European Union, which is slated to issue "Digital Green Certificates" as proof of COVID inoculation by mid-June.
We're still in the thick of the pandemic, so whether vaccine passports will become standardized and globally recognized remains to be seen. In the meantime, I'm just excited to go places that aren't my couch or kitchen!
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