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 and the subsequent vaccine passport are being distributed around the world.
But what is a vaccine passport and, more importantly, do you need one? 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 a 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, some vaccine passports like New York State's Excelsior Pass are only valid for a set amount of time, upon which you can redownload it.
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.
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What does a vaccine passport look like?
The majority of vaccine passports, like the Excelsior Pass, are set up like an airline boarding pass: 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 or Moderna jabs.
How to get a US COVID 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) 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 vaccine passports like the Excelsior Pass, the information needed to verify your vaccination is usually first and last name, birth date, and 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.
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How to get the NHS vaccine passport in the UK:
Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport of the United Kingdom, announced in late April 2021 that Britons would 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 is "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."
Speaking to Sky News (opens in new tab) on April 28th about the 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.”
How to get the EU vaccine passport:
On July 1st, the European Union introduced its EU Digital COVID Certificate Regulation. Through the program, EU citizens and residents would be able to have digital vaccine certificates issued and verified across the 27 member states of the EU, allowing fuss-free movement travel around the region.
The EU digital vaccine passport consists of a QR code that can be stored on a mobile device. (Citizens who prefer things analog can request a paper version.) The passport will show that an individual has been vaccinated against COVID-19 (all COVID vaccines are accepted), received a negative test result within the past 24 hours, or fully recovered from coronavirus.
According to the official website of the European Union, "national authorities are in charge of issuing the certificate," whether that's having the passports issued at test centers or sent directly via an eHealth portal. To find out how a specific country is treating the distribution of these digital passports, visit the EU website (opens in new tab).
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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 California and Hawaii have rolled out their own vaccine record programs, though the passes are not required. 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. Denmark has one, and China is working to roll out its own version.
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, we're just excited to go places that aren't our couch or kitchen!
Christina Izzo is the Deputy Editor of My Imperfect Life.
More generally, she is a writer-editor covering food and drink, travel, lifestyle and culture in New York City. She was previously the Features Editor at Rachael Ray In Season and Reveal, as well as the Food & Drink Editor and chief restaurant critic at Time Out New York.
When she’s not doing all that, she can probably be found eating cheese somewhere.
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