In preparation of adjusting to a world in which COVID-19 vaccines are readily available, the travel industry is testing out procedures to establish the new protocols for travel going forward, specifically relating to the verification of travelers’ health credentials and vaccination status.
Most recently, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced being in the final development phase of their ‘Travel Pass’, while American Airlines launched a trial of their new digital health pass.
Now, the World Health Organization (WHO) is looking at the use of digital vaccine certificates to stipulate travel procedures in 2021.
Speaking to the press in Copenhagen, Siddhartha Datta, WHO Europe’s programme manager for vaccine-preventable diseases stated:
“We are looking very closely into the use of technology in this COVID-19 response, one of them how we can work with member states toward an e-vaccination certificate.”
Siddhartha further elaborated that any technology used for the response should conform to varying laws and ensure seamless border-crossing service to not overwhelm countries.
Pilot Project with Estonia Underway
In October, the World Health Organization signed an agreement with Estonia to work on a digitally enhanced International Certificate of Vaccination.
The project will see vaccine recipients receiving a digital certificate, referred to as a “smart yellow card”, for use in healthcare data tracking.
While the pilot project with Estonia is being done for healthcare purposes, it appears that the WHO sees its potential in safeguarding travel, as they are now looking to the certificates to facilitate cross-border travel.
WHO: Immunity Passports, Testing Not Enough
While the World Health Organization is looking at digital certificates of COVID-19 vaccination for travel, they are not supportive of immunity passports or rapid antigen tests for permitting international travel to combat COVID-19.
Immunity passports are recognized through the belief that an individual that has contracted the coronavirus and recovered has built antibodies, and is thus immune to the virus. However, the WHO recommends only the vaccine to prevent transmission.
Speaking at the same meeting, WHO’s Senior Emergency Officer for Europe, Catherine Smallwood, stated:
“We do not recommend immunity passports, nor do we recommend testing as a means to prevent transmission across borders.”
In this regard, the WHO’s consideration is distinguished from other digital certificate prototypes, such as IATA’s Travel Pass and American Airlines digital health pass, as the latter allow negative test results to constitute certification, while the WHO appears to only be focusing on vaccines exclusively.
Plan to Reduce COVID Transmission from Travel
The liability of COVID transmission from travel is one which medical experts and travel industry executives have been trying to tackle since the start of the pandemic.
The WHO’s digital vaccine certificate, in theory, is designed to assist safe international travel for passengers by minimizing the risk for virus transmission, as currently it appears that high volumes of travel increase cases.
This is supported by data showing surges of COVID cases following busy travel seasons, with the most recent example being the emerging second wave of COVID-19 in the US, following the country’s record setting travel week during the pandemic for Thanksgiving.
Vaccine on Brink of Approval
Plans such as the WHO’s digital vaccine certificate are underway even before the vaccine is readily available, as a means to have things ready once the vaccine finally arrives, as it is only a matter of time before the vaccine becomes an actuality and ready for distribution to the public.
The UK has already announced approval of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine to be administered this week.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories