What Is A Vaccine Passport?

By Nate Delesline III

Published on October 26, 2021

What Is A Vaccine Passport?

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Vaccine passports certify that a person received a Covid vaccination, or that they recently tested negative for the virus. Supporters of vaccine passports say using digital apps like IATA Travel Pass, Health Pass by CLEAR, and CommonPass will facilitate a quicker return to a new normal for in-person education, domestic and international travel, business, and entertainment.

In the U.S., vaccine passports differ from proof of coronavirus vaccination. Not long after the Covid vaccine's widespread U.S. availability in the spring of 2021, the Centers for Disease Control's (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card became America's de facto proof of vaccination document. But this card differs from a vaccine passport. It does not have a digital equivalent. It also does not record or show recent coronavirus test results.

International health credentials have a long history. The World Health Organization (WHO) began issuing vaccine certifications in 1969 as part of its International Health Regulations program. The WHO also issues the longstanding International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, popularly known to travelers as the Yellow Card.

Conflict Over Vaccine Passports

Making personal vaccine records readily accessible through a digital app could speed up the reopening of schools, businesses, and domestic and international travel.

However, some individuals and political leaders oppose vaccine passports. Vaccine passport opponents say that compelling anyone to submit their health information to a database or to disclose their vaccination status to access public spaces or services violates individuals' privacy. Legislators in some states have moved to ban or limit vaccine passport use.

As a result of varying policies between states and public and private schools, many universities have implemented their own vaccine requirements. For example, instead of requiring students to use a vaccine passport, schools may ask students to use the honor system to confirm that they meet vaccination requirements. Incoming and returning college students should verify school vaccination requirements ahead of the fall semester.

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Current State of Vaccine Passports

President Biden's administration intends to let the private sector take the lead in developing vaccine passports. A White House spokesperson recently said that the federal government will not create a central database nor issue a mandate requiring individuals to get specific vaccine credentials.

Instead, the Biden administration wants to allow nonprofits and private tech companies to develop vaccine passport technology and standards. The complex work to create vaccine credentials involves "dozens of agencies and a variety of experts," according to the Washington Post. Introduction of a worldwide vaccine passport is also unlikely.

Coordinating all the different initiatives in progress poses challenges. The White House wants free, open-source digital credentials to secure personal and data privacy. In addition, the White House wants paper versions of health passports available.

Support for vaccine passports at the state level varies. Governors and legislature in several states, including Arizona, Florida, Montana, Texas, and Wyoming, have supported or enacted legislation against vaccine passports.

Other state leaders, such as Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, have said they will not require residents to obtain or use vaccine passports. Lamont mirrored the Biden administration's position that the private sector and businesses can take the lead in the development, introduction, and use of digital health credentials. California also plans to support private sector efforts. New York is the only state so far to introduce a government-backed voluntary vaccine passport. More than one million people have downloaded Excelsior Pass since its introduction in March.

For college students, their university and the community they reside in away from school may maintain different ways of handling vaccine passports. University Business regularly updates this list of colleges mandating covid vaccinations for the fall 2021 semester. Learners may also want to check directly with their school about its use and acceptance of vaccine passports. Students headed to college for the first time should also review additional vaccinations that colleges often require.

Vaccine passport use also varies internationally. College students considering studying abroad or traveling internationally during the upcoming semester should plan ahead. They should take note of country-specific rules regarding proof of vaccination and vaccine passports for travelers. Some countries currently support vaccine passports. Others do not, but nevertheless require all travelers to submit health certifications before or upon arrival.

The travel industry has taken a leading role in introducing and supporting vaccine passports. American Airlines currently uses the VeriFLY health passport app. Airlines in partnership with American Airlines include Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia, and Japan Air Lines. Thirty six international airlines currently use IATA's Travel Pass.

Here's how VeriFLY, Travel Pass, and most other digital health passports work: Users download a free mobile app and create a user profile. Then, users input additional data, like their vaccination status or flight information. The app then stores that information in a secure, standardized digital format. You can then share that data with airlines and health or customs officials from your smartphone.

Covid Vaccination Cards

After your first vaccination (or only vaccination if you received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), all individuals should receive a CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. The card lists what vaccine type you received, and the date and location of vaccination.

A Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine doctor recommends doing three things to keep your covid vaccination card safe. First, take a photo of the card. Second, write down the vaccine confirmation information. Finally, consider sharing the photo of the card with your physician's office.

If you did not receive a covid vaccination card, contact the vaccination provider or your state health department. If you lose your card, you may contact your state's immunization information system.

College students who share the CDC's proof of vaccination cards with their school could be exempt from quarantines and other campus health and safety protocols. Rowan University, for example, offers a $1,000 total credit for full-time, on-campus students who provide proof of vaccination before the upcoming fall semester. Part-time Rowan students can receive prorated credits too.

As a result of political pushback and health privacy concerns, the U.S. does not currently possess — and probably will not establish —a vaccine passport database. As a result, the CDC's vaccine cards have become de facto proof of vaccination. But state or federal requirements do not require college students, or anyone else, to present their vaccine cards in any specific situations. However, according to multiple experts, schools, businesses, employers, and airlines can ask about your vaccination status without violating federal privacy laws.

Questions About Vaccine Passports

Q. Will I get a vaccination card after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine?

Yes, you'll receive a card following your COVID-19 vaccination. The card identifies what type of covid vaccine you received, and your vaccination date and location.

Q. Can my school ask for my vaccine passport?

The U.S. does not require vaccine passports. However, the American College Health Association's suggestions for reopening campuses this fall includes implementing vaccine passports as one way to facilitate the in-person reopening of higher education campuses.

Q. Can my school ask for my vaccination card?

Federal law affirms the right of higher education institutions to require student vaccinations. As a result, legal and health policy experts say schools can require students to confirm their vaccination status.

Q. Do I need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to go back to campus?

Yes, in many cases, colleges can require students to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in order to enroll, study, or live on campus. Some states permit students to claim religious or medical vaccine exemptions.

Portrait of Nate Delesline III

Nate Delesline III

Nate Delesline III is a Virginia-based writer covering higher education. He has more than a decade of experience as a newspaper journalist covering public safety, local government, business, transportation, and K-12 and higher education.

See Articles by Nate

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