In theory, I strongly support the idea of vaccine passports. Vaccines are our only way out of the coronavirus pandemic; we need to incentivize their uptake any way we can.
This is particularly relevant to the travel industry, which has been paralyzed by the zero-risk fantasy many leaders have sold their populations. A requirement (at least in the short-term) that everyone who enters a given country must be immunized against Covid-19 may coax some of these cowardly tyrants into restoring the freedom of movement.
Unfortunately, real life is more complicated than theoretical projections—in this case, maybe not for the reasons you assume. Continue reading to learn the sober reality of travel’s near-term future, as well as how (and when) I think we’ll all be able to globetrot again.
Why I Support Vaccine Passports (at Least in Theory)
Generally speaking, I believe freedom to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Unfortunately, the leaders we all made the mistake of electing in the before-time have pushed this equation all the way toward the “nothing” side, at least when it comes to freedom of movement. Allowing vaccinated travelers to get around entry bans and quarantines in the short-term could serve as a bridge to medium- and long-term normalization, i.e. when vaccinations finally bring the pandemic under control.
Allow me to state it even more clearly: Vaccine passports should be temporary. Americans, according to this recent survey by MyBiosource, seem to agree with me that their scope should also be limited. Specifically, these documents are suitable for unlocking international travel, and perhaps in permitting people to enter settings where high-risk individuals reside, such as nursing homes and hospitals. I don’t support the use of vaccine passports for travel within countries, nor for partaking in everyday activities such as shopping, dining and going to concerts or other events.
5 Major Problems With Vaccine Passports for Travel
Few countries will commit to accepting them
If every country agreed to allow fully vaccinated people to cross their borders without quarantine, vaccine passports would enjoy a level of support approaching 100 percent. However, since only a few countries around the world (Iceland, most notably) have accepted this compromise, even pro-vaccine travelers are skeptical and unsupportive of the concept.
The messaging has been terrible
The lack of vaccine passport buy-in on the part of national governments has created a chicken-and-egg snowball that will be difficult to overcome, barring an immediate course correction. This mirrors the nonsense spouted by health bureaucrats such Dr. Anthony Fauci of the US, who has implied that being fully vaccinated will not restore any of your freedoms.
The infrastructure still isn’t there
Even if a large number of countries wanted to admit vaccinated travelers tomorrow, systems for verifying vaccination status are poorly developed, where they exist at all. Private solutions such as CommonPass and the IATA Travel Pass aim to remedy this issue, but the aforementioned reluctance of governments renders them mostly useless. While I wait for the powers that be to get their you-know-what together, I’ve been using NextVacay to get awesome prices on future travel.
Not all vaccines are created equal
Another problem with vaccine passports? Some vaccines are more protective than others. Or, in the case of China-made jabs, may not really be protective at all. While it seems sensible to require that travelers get high-quality vaccines such as Pfizer’s, which real-world data has shown prevents transmission, this adds yet another layer of complication to the entire system.
Too many governments remain in a zero-risk mindset
In mid-April 2021, Australian health minister Greg Hunt shocked the world when he stated that the country’s borders could stay closed even after all Aussies are vaccinated—in other words, forever. While many leaders are at least marginally more pragmatic than this, dozens of countries continue to peddle some version of the unsustainable “Zero Covid” fantasy.
How (and When) Will International Travel Restart?
Analyzing both the medical and political realities of Covid-19 for more than a year, I’ve determined that two main barriers stand in the way of international mobility resuming. Politically, leaders need to reset the expectations of their citizens away from quixotic dreams of eradication or elimination (which nearly all scientists agree is not possible), and toward risk/harm minimization. The medical trajectory of the pandemic will soon prove that this is the correct political approach.
As mass vaccination slows the spread of SARS-CoV-2 to a crawl, vaccine-induced protection of vulnerable populations against severe disease and death will defang the virus, reducing it to a seasonal event comparable to influenza or the common cold. This confluence will take several years to manifest, however, which is why authorities involved in vaccine passports should get their act together, lest none of us travel abroad again until mid-decade.
Other FAQ About Vaccine Passports
Is a vaccine required to fly?
Although certain airlines (most notably Qantas) have implied that proof of vaccination against Covid-19 may eventually be required to board their aircraft, no airline yet requires passengers to present a vaccine passport in order to fly. Please note that most airlines still require adherence to safety protocols such as masking, hand hygiene and social distancing where possible.
What happens if I don’t want the Covid-19 vaccine?
Covid-19 vaccines are not mandatory for the vast majority of people, no matter where you live. However, not getting a Covid-19 vaccine may put you at risk of developing severe illness or dying from the disease, particularly if you are part of a high-risk population. I encourage you to direct vaccine-related questions to your doctor, or another licensed medical professional.
Are you immune to Covid after the vaccine?
Non-Chinese Covid-19 vaccines protect against severe illness and death in nearly 100% of cases. Protection against asymptomatic disease and disease transmission varies, however, from about 60-70% with the AstraZeneca and J&J shots, to rates above 90% with mRNA jabs from Moderna and Pfizer.
The Bottom Line
Vaccine passports have the potential to unlock travel in a major way. However, because of mixed messaging about their scope and intent, and cowardice among national leaders, members of the general public have become skeptical about the idea to a degree that may be terminal. The implications for the travel industry (and, of course, for travelers) are dire, as the freedom of movement remains almost totally suspended, in spite of the fact that nearly a billion vaccine doses have been administered around the world. While I believe international mobility will eventually get back to where it was, the seeming failure of vaccine passports will greatly delay our return to normal.