Ultimate Resource For Covid-19 Vaccine Passports
U.S. holds back for now amid ethical and practical concerns. Ultimate Resource For Covid-19 Vaccine Passports
Many international travelers will likely need to prove they are vaccinated or free of Covid-19 if they plan trips later this year, after the European Union and China both said they would move ahead with plans for “vaccine passports.”
China is working toward launching certificates that will declare a person’s vaccination status or recent test results, according to its foreign ministry. Similarly, the European Commission plans this month to present proposals for a “digital green pass” for EU citizens, which will specify if someone has been vaccinated, and if not, carry details of their test results.
EU leaders expect it to take three months to get the program running.
“The aim is to gradually enable them [EU citizens] to move safely in the European Union or abroad—for work or tourism,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
Last week, the U.K. said it, too, was looking at the pros and cons of digital passports, after initially ruling them out.
The Biden administration hasn’t said if Covid-19 vaccinations will factor into U.S. travel requirements. The U.S.’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t yet issued guidance on the issue and says there are no established international standards for vaccines or documentation of vaccination.
“Until then, all air passengers traveling to the U.S., regardless of vaccination or antibody status, are required to provide a negative Covid-19 test result or documentation of recovery,” CDC spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey said.
Many disease experts and the World Health Organization are wary of vaccine passports on the grounds that it remains unclear if vaccinated individuals can or can’t still spread the virus. Governments, though, are increasingly coming around to the idea as a potentially useful tool to underpin the post-pandemic economic recovery.
China’s move marks a departure from its earlier skepticism regarding vaccine passports. Its foreign ministry said Beijing was willing to explore the issue, “so as to provide a reliable guarantee for a healthy, safe and regulated new order for cross-border people exchanges.”
China now hopes to inoculate 40% of its population by the end of July, up from the current 3.56%, according to Zhong Nanshan, the head of China’s Covid-19 vaccine R&D committee.
The chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Wu Zunyou, said the U.S. could achieve 90% herd immunity by August and proposed an opening of travel between the U.S. and China if that occurred.
“If we could remove all political barriers, just based on the science, the two countries could possibly be the first two countries to remove all barriers for free travel,” Mr. Wu said.
For their supporters, vaccine passports would allow a resumption of business travel and tourism, helping economies laid low by the pandemic to get back on their feet. Many countries have in the past year slapped outright bans on incoming travelers, and many still impose onerous testing and quarantine requirements for visitors and returnees.
Among the idea’s strongest advocates are airlines and tourism-dependent countries, which are pushing to normalize international travel as much as possible by summer.
The International Air Transport Association is due to release an app this month allowing travelers to upload a picture of their vaccination documents. Those photos would be verified, with staff and software checking whether, for example, the clinic listed on the document exists and has been providing vaccines.
Eventually, travelers should be able to scan their face and thumb at the airport to move freely across borders, said IATA Senior Vice President Nick Careen. Some countries may opt into the system, while others may hold back.
Since fall, the association has been trying to drum up support from the WHO for its proposal, he said, but has made limited headway.
“We’re moving on without them…We’ve got countries that are going to go tilt if they can’t get tourists and they are not small countries: Spain, Greece, Thailand,” Mr. Careen said.
Within Europe, the issue has pitted tourism-importing places, such as Cyprus and Greece, which are eager to revive international travel by the summer, against countries such as Belgium, France, and Germany, which are more cautious. Among their concerns are the risk that discriminating against unvaccinated people will be politically problematic in countries such as France, where polls show roughly half of the population is hesitant about receiving a shot.
The WHO has so far declined to support a vaccine travel certificate, saying it needs more information. At root are two issues: Immunologists still don’t know how easily vaccinated people can unwittingly spread the virus, though early indications suggest such a risk may be low.
Secondly, some WHO leaders have expressed concern that allowing vaccinated people to travel freely while maintaining border closures and mandatory quarantines for others could be discriminative: 75% of all doses administered so far have been in just 10 countries, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said in February.
Vaccine passports would tend to “restrict travel more than permit travel,” Mike Ryan, executive director of WHO’s emergencies program, said last month. “We don’t foresee this as an immediate requirement or need but certainly one that will have to be discussed in the coming months.”
While some epidemiologists see vaccine passports as a possible way to encourage more uptake, others worry that new variants of the disease will spread if people are allowed to cross borders again, and want to see Europe and North America impose the sort of strict blanket travel bans and mandatory hotel quarantines seen in New Zealand and Australia.
Governments should eliminate the disease before allowing visitors, and then only allow travelers from other places that have eradicated the virus, said Deepti Gurdasani, a senior lecturer at the Queen Mary University of London, who opposes the vaccine exemptions.
“We really need to rethink our strategy around this,” she said. “From a scientific perspective this doesn’t make sense at all right now. These kinds of things lead to a false sense of security.”
Airlines And Travel Groups Urge U.S. To Develop Virus Passport
U.S. airlines, joined by travel groups and labor, urged the Biden administration to take the lead in developing standards for temporary Covid-19 health credentials that would help reopen global travel by documenting vaccinations and test results.
The U.S. “must be a leader” in efforts already underway in other regions to implement such travel passports, groups including Airlines for America said in a letter Monday to Jeffrey Zients, the head of President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 recovery team. It’s essential for the government to partner with carriers and the travel industry “to quickly develop” standards, they said.
Increasing numbers of vaccinations and slowing rates of disease in many countries are expected to trigger a surge in travel after many consumers spent a year staying close to home to avoid contracting coronavirus. Covid-19 Health Certificates, or CHCs, are seen as essential to reopening many nations that have imposed quarantines or other restrictions on travelers from other countries. The U.S. currently requires a negative Covid-19 test for those entering the country by airplane.
“The current diverse and fragmented digital health credentials used to implement different countries’ air travel testing requirements risk causing confusion, reducing compliance and increasing fraud,” the groups said. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can help lead the global discussion, increasing certainty that test results are legitimate, prioritizing passenger privacy, improving operational efficiency for the aviation industry ecosystem, and strengthening protections against importation of the virus.”
Members of the European Union also face increasing pressure from voters and businesses for a road map to end lockdowns and restrictions. The European Commission will unveil a proposal this month for a “Digital Green Pass” that will provide proof that a person has been vaccinated, recovered from Covid-19, or has received a negative test.
Such documentation also could be used eventually at sports arenas, theme parks, business meetings and restaurants, according to the letter, which was signed by 27 groups, including the Air Traffic Control Association, the Global Business Travel Association, Airports Council International-North America, the Allied Pilots Association and the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.
Traveling To China Just Got Easier—If You Take A Chinese Covid-19 Vaccine
Chinese embassies to facilitate visas despite concerns over efficacy of Chinese shots, as the concept of ‘vaccine passports’ gains pace.
After a year of barring entry by most foreign citizens, China’s government plans to ease restrictions for those who have been inoculated against Covid-19. The hitch for now: Only vaccines made in China will qualify.
Chinese embassies in the U.S., Italy, India, the Philippines and other locations say they will provide “visa facilitation” to foreign applicants who can certify that they have received a Chinese shot. To enter China, most travelers also still need to prove they have tested negative for Covid-19, obtain an antibody test, and quarantine upon arrival, according to statements Tuesday.
The increasing availability of a variety of Covid-19 vaccines is prompting some governments to rethink some travel restrictions, even as hundreds of thousands of new Covid-19 infections are recorded daily around the globe. The European Union has proposed a “digital green pass” for the region’s citizens, which will specify if someone has been vaccinated and if not, carry details of their test results.
China is eager to play a leading role in setting standards for future travel with “vaccine passports,” in part because opening up and facilitating business travel should boost its economy. It is also an opportunity for Chinese authorities to promote the country’s homegrown vaccines.
The new policy is exploratory and “based on sufficient consideration of safety and effectiveness,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing on Tuesday.
China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to a list of questions from the Journal, including which countries’ citizens would be eligible for visas, referring a reporter to Mr. Zhao’s comments.
Some public health experts have raised concerns about the speed with which China is rolling out its vaccines globally, arguing that Beijing and Chinese companies haven’t been transparent enough about the results of Chinese clinical trials. Preliminary data from China’s drug regulator and global researchers helping run Chinese clinical trials show the companies’ vaccines are less effective than many Western candidates.
“I think they should accept other vaccines,” said Jennifer Huang Bouey, a China policy researcher at the RAND Corporation. But “I feel they want to push for bilateral agreements on vaccines.”
Acceptance of Chinese vaccines has increased despite concerns around their exact efficacy levels. More than 60 countries have authorized use of Chinese vaccines, according to Chinese state media.
Beijing has approved five of its own vaccines for conditional use domestically. The latest one regulators greenlighted for emergency use last week is co-developed by a government-owned Chinese Academy of Sciences. No late-stage clinical data on it is available to the public.
Beijing’s willingness to consider vaccines in approving entry could affect the decision-making of people like David Fun, a U.S. citizen who works as a medical-systems manager of a private clinic in the southern Chinese city Shenzhen. Mr. Fun said he was offered two Chinese vaccine options through work several months ago but decided against taking one because he had qualms about how effective the shots would be.
Mr. Fun said he might reconsider if it meant that he could visit his parents in Boston, whom he hasn’t seen in more than a year.
“If travel opens up between the U.S. and China, I’d be down,” he said, adding that he could add a Western vaccine on top of a Chinese one in that scenario.
Few Western nations have approved use of Chinese vaccines, meaning the latest Chinese measure would leave out many would-be travelers. The Chinese Embassy in the U.S. announced the new measure even though the U.S. hasn’t approved non-Western vaccines.
Asked why China didn’t include vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization, the Foreign Ministry’s Mr. Zhao referred to an earlier statement saying China was interested in pursuing mutual recognition of vaccines with other countries.
The WHO has approved two versions of a vaccine by the U.K.’s AstraZeneca Inc. and Oxford University as well as a vaccine by the U.S.’s Johnson & Johnson for emergency use.
None of the announcements posted by Chinese embassies provided details on how the visa facilitation would work.
Chinese authorities in Hong Kong said last week that foreign travelers applying for Chinese visas from the territory would no longer need to show negative Covid-19 tests results if they could show they had been inoculated with a Chinese shot.
Ticket? Passport? Add A Covid Vaccination Card To The List Of Must-Have Travel Documents
British Airways is offering to log passengers’ vaccination details to smooth international travel.
The world’s airlines are betting on vaccinations to restart international travel.
Two of Europe’s biggest airlines, British Airways and budget carrier Ryanair Holdings PLC, have started allowing fliers to provide Covid-19 vaccination and test-result details alongside personal data, like passport numbers and visa information, during bookings. The airlines say the move will eventually help passengers show they have been inoculated when landing at destinations that have started to welcome vaccinated travelers.
Across the U.S., domestic travel is picking up amid stabilizing or falling Covid-19 cases and a relatively quick vaccination drive. That rebound isn’t yet happening with international traffic, where a patchwork of travel bans, quarantine rules and testing requirements have stymied cross-border flights.
U.S. domestic carriers have increased scheduled capacity by more than 50% between September and March, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium. Global capacity across all international routes, meanwhile, has increased just a little over 7%.
British Airways, Ryanair and other airlines dependent on international travel are hoping to boost ticket sales by capitalizing on nascent optimism over vaccinations. Their move isn’t quite the sort of vaccination passport that some governments and international agencies are exploring to help unlock pandemic-stricken economies. Countries have considered documents that would allow vaccinated residents to visit bars and restaurants, or go to the office or a sporting event.
The airlines’ effort is more modest, aimed at making the storing and display of vaccination and test records easier for passengers who are considering visiting countries putting out the welcome mat for vaccinated travelers. The goal is to minimize fears of being refused entry at borders and limiting the time a passenger needs to spend at airport check-in.
British Airways is moving at a time when its home market is benefiting from one of the world’s fastest vaccine rollouts. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month laid out plans that could lead to the lifting of a monthslong ban on overseas travel in May. Airlines reported a surge in bookings after Mr. Johnson’s briefing. TUI AG , the biggest tour operator in Europe, reported a 500% week-on-week surge in bookings for trips to Turkey, Greece and Spain.
Cyprus and Greece, which have intermittently closed their borders to most tourists, have said they plan sometime in May to welcome British visitors without restrictions if they can show proof of being fully vaccinated. In Iceland, the government is allowing any incoming vaccinated traveler to bypass Covid-19 health-screening protocols.
On Wednesday, the European Union said it was introducing a vaccination “passport” in both digital and paper form for EU citizens traveling within the bloc. The document will carry Covid-19 health-related data including vaccination and test histories. Governments along the Mediterranean have pushed for the measure to be in place in time to prevent a second lost summer season for their battered tourism industry.
China on Tuesday said it was easing travel restrictions for vaccinated foreigners. Chinese embassies in the U.S., Italy, India, the Philippines and other locations plan to offer “visa facilitation” to foreign applicants who can certify they have been vaccinated. Travelers are still subject to showing a negative Covid-19 test and to quarantine. And there is another catch: The only shots that qualify are ones made by China, and those are hard to find in much of the West.
As part of its plan to ease post-pandemic travel, British Airways—the largest carrier within International Consolidated Airlines Group SA —will allow passengers to upload evidence of inoculation and negative Covid-19 tests when they make a booking on its website. By that means, British Airways can verify the passenger’s health documents are in order, much like airlines do for various visa requirements for travelers.
The first British Airways flights for which data can be submitted are those from London to India. India doesn’t require vaccination for traveling, but does require proof of a negative Covid-19 test.
“We are preparing for the meaningful return to international travel in the coming months,” British Airways Chief Executive Sean Doyle said. “This means doing everything we can to simplify the journey for our customers.”
Ryanair, Europe’s biggest airline by traffic, has developed a similar “travel wallet” tool on its website and mobile app. It said it is preparing for the release of pent-up demand in May and June once higher-risk populations in Europe have been vaccinated.
“Many Ryanair customers will be taking their first holiday in over a year, adhering to new travel guidelines,” Dara Brady, Ryanair’s head of marketing, said. The travel wallet will allow passengers to store all of their Covid-related documents “in one location with zero fuss or paperwork to worry about.”
As vaccinations around the world accelerate, airlines are testing out other ways to help for passengers navigate different international Covid-19 health regimes. Carriers including Singapore Airlines Ltd. , Emirates Airline and Qatar Airways have been working with the International Air Transport Association, an airline trade body, to test a so-called Travel Pass.
The system, which includes a mobile app, aims to allow passengers to demonstrate Covid-19 vaccination and testing records, while also identifying testing and vaccination requirements for different locations and local testing centers accessible during travel. Ethiopian Airlines said Wednesday it was partnering with the African Union to try out a similar travel pass for intracontinental flights.
U.S. carriers also have been turning to new apps to help passengers keep track of various travel requirements and upload test results—systems that could eventually be used for vaccine records. Delta Air Lines Inc. CEO Ed Bastian said in an interview with NBC News this week that he expects vaccine passports for international flights will be required for U.S. passengers, but suggested the measure wouldn’t be required for domestic trips. United Airlines Holdings Inc. said it plans to start letting customers upload vaccination records beginning in early April for certain destinations.
Vaccine Passports Don’t Have To Work To Be Effective
The U.S. should develop a system to verify vaccinations but not necessarily use it.
As more Americans get vaccinated, there is increasing talk of “vaccine passports.” There are strong emotional reactions to this idea, positive and negative, but my attempt at a more analytical view leads me to a conclusion that is not entirely satisfying (even to me): America should work to develop vaccine passports but never actually require them.
First, I am not impressed by the criticisms that vaccine passports will create an unfair two-tier society. Covid-19 already has done that. Not only are the 500,000 dead already in a highly disadvantageous “tier,” but the U.S. has been divided between those who can work at home — often higher earners — and those who cannot. If a vaccine passport system can help clean up this mess and accelerate recovery, it is likely to increase fairness on average.
The biggest advantage of vaccine passports is that they would encourage people to get the vaccine. Many people who are indifferent about getting it but want to be able to fly or attend a sporting event would have a strong inducement to hurry up and claim their doses. Getting vaccinated would also boost their health and job prospects, as well as protect others.
So far, so good. What are the problems?
One issue is what exactly constitutes proof of vaccination. For my vaccinations, I have been issued a rather flimsy, easy-to-forge paper document from the Centers for Disease Control. Unlike a passport or a dollar bill, it has no embedded watermarks or other protections.
Anyone with a moderately sophisticated copy machine could create many fake documents, or perhaps steal an existing stash of these documents and sell them on the black market. Once you have the documents, you can simply note that you have been vaccinated, and it is not easy for outside parties to dispute such claims.
Soon enough, of course, it may be easier for most adults to get a vaccine than to forge a vaccine passport. Still, U.S. laws and regulations work better when they can refer to clear, verifiable standards of evidence.
It is hard to imagine a set of laws or procedures based on criteria so loose that they basically allow anyone to claim they are vaccinated. A more stringent standard, however, would be hard for most vaccinated Americans to meet.
Another knotty question is which vaccines will count for the passport. Pfizer’s, Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s for sure, but what if you are a U.S. citizen living in Canada who received AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has been approved by some 15 nations but not the U.S.?
Is the federal government willing to tell a whole class of responsible individuals that they cannot fly on U.S. planes? Or will the vaccine-passport bureaucracy be willing to approve vaccines that the Food and Drug Administration will not?
These dilemmas can become stickier yet. What about Sputnik, the Russian vaccine, or the numerous Chinese vaccines, which are being administered around the world, including in Mexico?
Do Americans really wish to create a country to which most foreigners would not be very welcome? Furthermore, what counts as proof of foreign vaccination? Some Asian countries, including China, are creating elaborate and supposedly secure vaccine verification systems, using advanced information technology.
Good for them — but how would that connect with U.S. regulations? How many different passport systems would a flight attendant or gate agent have to read, interpret and render judgment upon?
The likely result of all this: Many foreign visitors to the U.S. would never quite know in advance whether they could board an airplane or attend a public event.
And how would the passport reflect any new vaccines deemed necessary? What if new Covid-19 strains require booster shots? What if you’ve had Covid and thus get only one shot for now rather than two, as many experts are recommending? What will happen as the number of vaccines around the world proliferates?
Given the slowness of the FDA and CDC, it is hard to imagine any new U.S. approvals coming quickly. A vaccine passport system could end up being fetters not only for foreigners and anti-vaxxers but also for vaccinated Americans.
I thus arrive at my counterintuitive view: In order to encourage vaccinations, it may be permissible — even helpful — for the government to announce that a vaccine passport system will be put in place. But this is a case where the infamous lassitude of the federal bureaucracy may work in America’s favor. By the time a vaccine passport system is finally ready, maybe it will be rendered irrelevant by the success of America’s vaccination program.
Vaccine Passports Would Get The U.S. Back To Normal Faster
Proof of Covid-19 vaccination would be especially reassuring for high-risk groups.
There’s some scientific justification for using vaccine passports to allow vaccinated people — and only vaccinated people — back into restaurants, movie theaters and other indoor spaces. But so far, the Biden Administration has declined to impose government standards for such certificates.
Without a uniform standard, it may be hard for individual restaurants or other businesses to collect proof of vaccine status. This could hobble the reopening effort and slow the return to normal life.
One major barrier is the ongoing communication problem in the U.S. Here, the public health community has chosen to advocate for blunt rules, rather than offer frank communication about relative risks. Experts have then blamed Americans for being too “individualistic” to follow the rules, even when those rules don’t make much sense — like closing public beaches or playgrounds.
Vaccine passports would require a layer of nuanced communication that has so far been lacking, as well as a different approach to rule-making. People’s risk varies a lot by age and health status, so what’s reasonably safe for one person might not be for another.
The whole premise of vaccine passports rests on the growing scientific evidence that vaccines not only offer protection from getting sick, they also significantly cut down the risk of getting a mild or asymptomatic case and transmitting the virus to others.
But vaccines aren’t perfect — that means vaccinated people at very high risk of death from Covid-19 could enjoy dining and entertainment in a safer way if they’re only in contact with other vaccinated people.
A restaurant where everyone is vaccinated offers a much-diminished risk — but given the unknowns associated with new variants, it’s not zero. “Nothing is foolproof, but I do think you dramatically lessen our chances of getting the virus when you come into contact with someone who is vaccinated rather than someone who is not,” says physician and vaccine expert Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Explaining that is challenging, but it doesn’t take extreme nuance to consider the different needs of an 80-year-old obese diabetic and those of a 22-year-old who lives alone. And at some point, people will be making more decisions about their own risks.
Vaccine passports could have all kinds of emotional and economic benefits, as well as public health ones. The EU is considering vaccine passports to encourage summer tourism, and some airlines are starting to use them to help travelers enjoy more freedom at their destinations.
In Israel, the perks that come with flashing an “I’m vaccinated” QR code may be motivating more people to get their shots, Offit says. And if enough people get vaccinated to drive the incidence of the disease way down, Offit believes it could potentially prevent a new wave in the fall of 2021.
Harvey Rubin, an infectious disease expert at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the current CDC guidelines actually do function as a kind of vaccine passport. “If you’re vaccinated you can hug your grandchildren, and have mask-less meetings,” he says. “So we are moving towards something like a vaccine passport,” though it’s an unwritten social contract.
The CDC could go further in this direction, offering some guidance on safer ways to travel — a more nuanced message than CDC’s continued advice against unnecessary travel. Certainly, staying with friends who are also vaccinated and doing outdoor activities should be safer for individuals and better for public health than gathering in large crowds.
Vaccination and vaccine passports aren’t just about mitigating personal risk, of course. There are broader public health concerns. Offit suggests that vaccinated people still have a moral obligation to continue masking and distancing.
“Over the next two months, thousands of people are going to die in part because they have not gotten a vaccine — because they could not get it or don’t want to get it,” he says. Once everyone who wants a vaccine can get one, the moral and safety equations will change. Vaccine passports could help bridge the gap until we get there.
Nevertheless, Offit says he thinks vaccine passports won’t work as well in the U.S. as in Israel. “In Israel, they see themselves more as a group and I think we see ourselves as a collection of individuals who have all kind of rights and freedoms including the freedom to transmit a potentially deadly infection,” he says.
That’s a value judgment, however, and it might be wrong. It’s been too easy for public health officials to deflect blame for failed policies onto a disobedient public. We obey rules about smoking and driving. Public health rules and even vaccine passports can work if they’re used in a way that’s reasonable and fair, and delivered with smart, compassionate messages about the good they can do for high-risk people who’ve been shut in for more than a year.
Big Tech Helps Set Standards For Covid-19 Vaccine Verification
Microsoft, Salesforce contribute to software framework for apps that provide digital proof of vaccination to be used for travel, returning to work.
A coalition that includes tech giants and healthcare providers is preparing to release global standards for mobile apps that verify whether someone has had a Covid-19 vaccine.
The Vaccination Credential Initiative standards will incorporate digitally-verified clinical data with a name and birth date that can be also displayed as machine-readable QR codes.
After the open-source standards are released next month, they can be integrated into mobile apps that people could use to verify they have been vaccinated to gain admission to offices, restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and other public places.
Companies and large venues could also choose to request additional verification, such as a driver’s license, or temperature checks in addition to seeing an individual’s vaccine record.
“We will have the published standards available next month. It has progressed quite rapidly,” said John Halamka, president of Mayo Clinic Platform, a division of the nonprofit academic medical center, who is helping lead the effort.
The group’s more than 200 members include Microsoft Corp. , Oracle Corp. , Salesforce. com Inc. and healthcare providers. It hopes the software framework will be the dominant standards used worldwide for verifying Covid-19 vaccinations.
“What’s new and exciting about (the new standards) is the ability to digitally sign that information so it’s basically tamper-proof,” said Paul Meyer, co-founder and chief executive of coalition member the Commons Project, a nonprofit organization that develops digital services.
The Commons Project plans to integrate the new software standards into two free apps that are currently available, CommonPass and CommonHealth. CommonHealth lets people collect, manage and share their health data, and CommonPass lets people show their Covid-19 health status in scenarios such as traveling and returning to work.
The standards are currently going through an approval process by members of the Health Level Seven International, or HL7, which helps organizations exchange clinical data throughout the world, Dr. Halamka said.
Microsoft said Joshua Mandel, its chief architect for healthcare, contributed to development of the software standards. “The aim … is to provide individuals access to their Covid-19 vaccination records in a secure, verifiable and privacy-preserving way,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement.
The group isn’t getting paid for developing the standards, which will be freely available for anyone to use. Healthcare organizations can update their existing mobile apps to incorporate the new standards once they are available.
“It absolutely has to be a joint effort,” said Bill Patterson, Salesforce’s executive vice president and general manager of customer relationship management applications. “This is the largest vaccination effort in human history.”
The enterprise software giant is contributing tools to the group for interoperable messaging, workflow, software integration and other capabilities, Mr. Patterson said. Salesforce didn’t say how much it is investing in the effort.
Various organizations are already piloting or planning to introduce digital verification apps, or “passports.”
On Wednesday, the European Union said it was introducing a vaccination “passport” in both digital and paper form for EU citizens traveling within the bloc.
Clear, the expedited airline security gate service, is testing a Covid-19 test or vaccination-verification app on some flights into Hawaii as part of a pilot program with the state.
International Business Machines Corp. launched a verification service for Covid-19 health data last fall called Digital Health Pass built on blockchain, the technology behind cryptocurrencies. IBM, which is also part of the VCI coalition, charges commercial clients, including local governments, for services such as integrating the Digital Health Pass into their existing mobile apps.
IBM had been building the service before the pandemic and will integrate the VCI standards after they are released. IBM declined to say how much money it has invested in the development of its Digital Health Pass.
IBM said it has offered feedback on several standards efforts. Eric Piscini, global vice president of emerging business networks at IBM, said he expects that mobile apps for Covid-19 health data will have to comply with multiple standards.
Salesforce said it is working on integrating IBM’s Digital Health Pass into its Work.com platform, designed to help employers with a range of tasks such as staggering work shifts.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google isn’t directly involved with the VCI group, but said it is keeping a close eye on efforts to establish a software standard, which can then be integrated into its digital-wallet platform and accessed on Android mobile devices.
Sensitive health records require an extra layer of security, along with compliance with health laws and other regulations, a Google spokeswoman said.
“We stand ready to engage with public health bodies and other organizations to understand their requirements,” she said.
A Vaccine Passport Is The New Golden Ticket As The World Reopens
Companies and countries that depend on travel or large gatherings are counting on a totally unproven concept.
In a harbor on the Greek island of Paxos, Panagiotis Mastoras checks over his fleet of pleasure craft and counts down the days to the return of the tourists who fuel the economy of the 8-mile speck in the Ionian Sea.
For the rental-boat skipper, the easing of travel curbs imposed as the Covid-19 outbreak swept the world appears tantalizingly close. Greece said it would welcome back visitors starting on May 14, as long as they’ve had a vaccination, recovered from the novel coronavirus, or tested negative before flying out. “It’s the safest way,” says Mastoras, one of 850,000 people working in a holiday sector that accounted for almost a quarter of Greece’s gross domestic product before the pandemic, the highest proportion in Europe. “We’ve reached a point where it can’t go on like this.”
Greece is at the forefront of a bid to revive travel with the help of so-called vaccine passports—certificates or digital cards testifying to the apparent low-risk status of their holders—which is gaining traction in tourist-reliant economies from the Caribbean to Thailand.
Businesses that have suffered a yearlong battering from the pandemic are also coming to view the passes as a route to salvation. The International Air Transport Association, which represents 290 carriers worldwide, estimates the industry could lose $95 billion in cash in 2021 after already suffering the worst year on record.
So airlines have supported a number of tech solutions to verify passengers’ Covid vaccination or testing results, such as the IATA Travel Pass app, the AOKpass from French travel-security company International SOS, and the CommonPass, which is being developed by a Swiss nonprofit and the World Economic Forum.
A lack of standards could hinder such efforts. “There has been a lot of advocacy, but the execution has been sorely lacking,” says Jeffrey Goh, who heads the Star Alliance of 26 carriers including Air China, Deutsche Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, and United Airlines Holdings. A single set of standards for vaccine passes needs to be agreed to at the Group of Seven or Group of 20 level, Goh says, because vaccine passports represent “a policy choice for rekindling the economy.”
Singapore Airlines has begun a trial of IATA’s app, as has Qatar Airways. TUI AG, the world’s biggest tour operator, says vaccine passports will be key to resuscitating its business. And Carnival Corp.’s U.K.-based P&O Cruises has stipulated that no one can board its ships this summer without proof of vaccination.
In the U.S., American Airlines Group Inc. has signed on with the VeriFly app being rolled out by biometric software company Daon. United has developed its own in-house platform, Travel Ready, which will allow passengers bound for certain destinations to upload vaccination records starting in early April.
Once established in the travel sector, such passes could hold the key to the reopening of wider society, advocates say, allowing business meetings and conventions as well as gatherings at sports events and concerts. Hyatt Hotels Corp. on March 9 announced it was exploring the use of VeriFly to help guests attend meetings at its properties.
Ultimately some gyms, bars, restaurants, and even shops could also rely on the new vaccination documents to help patrons gain easier access.
Yet the case for handing the newly inoculated pass holders their old life back is far from universally accepted. None of the available shots is 100% effective, meaning travelers with vaccine passports could in theory continue to spread the virus in crowded resorts.
Moreover, some vaccines, such as Russia’s Sputnik V, have not been cleared in many other parts of the world, raising the possibility that administrators of the Covid passports may have to make thorny medical determinations on which vaccines are effective enough to allow safe passage—even though health professionals haven’t settled that debate.
More fundamental are questions surrounding the fairness of vaccine passports, which would inevitably favor the inhabitants of richer nations over poorer ones where the distribution of shots has barely begun.
And vaccine passports would initially open up travel to a cohort of the elderly and middle-aged that have been prioritized for inoculation, leaving younger people in effective travel curfew while their parents and grandparents jet off to warmer climes.
President Joe Biden is facing pressure from travel interests including Airlines for America, the industry lobby, to introduce federal standards for vaccine passports.
He signed an executive order in January requiring an assessment of how they might be used, but he’s yet to act on the request to establish guidelines amid concerns over privacy issues and the impact on disadvantaged groups.
The Virginia-based Global Business Travel Association, which says its members manage more than $345 billion of spending annually, said in February that the White House should resist any moves that might “further cripple” the industry by restricting domestic air travel with a required negative Covid test.
Although Americans have a handful of foreign-travel options, including to parts of the Caribbean and Mexico, which requires neither a Covid test nor proof of vaccination, the reality is that they will “all be going to Florida” this year because most other top destinations have restrictions, says John Grant, chief analyst at flight-bookings specialist OAG.
Rifts over the role of vaccine passes in helping the world recover from the coronavirus crisis have been especially apparent within the European Union. Nations in the sunnier south are desperate to revive tourism just as others farther north fret over the consequences of permitting travel, in a continent where the virus has hit hard and vaccine distribution remains painfully slow in large parts.
On March 17 the EU gave the go-ahead to its own passport, a “Digital Green Certificate,” but some key questions persist, including when the passport will be available (an internal memo has suggested in three months) and how long the full reopening of borders will take under a proposed tiered phase-in.
Those hurdles suggest countries such as Cyprus, Greece, and Spain may need to go ahead with plans to admit tourists via bilateral pacts if they’re to make the most of the summer season.
The U.K. aims to permit international leisure trips starting as early as May 17, and many travel-dependent nations are desperate to snag British vacationers once restrictions are lifted. Britain, along with Germany, is the biggest source of visitors to the Mediterranean.
Visitor numbers to Spain were down 90% in January from a year earlier, underscoring the continuing woes of a tourism sector that’s typically 10% of the economy.
In Spain’s Canary Islands, which sit off the coast of Africa and normally have a year-round tourist season, hotel manager Jorge Marichal is counting on a May reopening of his lodgings on Tenerife, a perennial favorite with Brits, after more than a year.
“We’re pinning our hopes on the vaccines and the Covid pass,” says Marichal, who also chairs the Spanish Confederation of Hotels and Tourist Lodgings.
At PortAventura World, a theme park and resort complex near Barcelona with 2,200 rooms, managing director David Garcia says he expects vaccine passports to unleash pent-up demand from international markets in the third quarter.
But Michael Blandy, chairman of Blandy Group in Madeira, Portugal, which has stakes in 15 hotels, is less upbeat, even though the holiday island and cruise ship destination is already accepting visitors who can produce the appropriate health documentation.
Blandy says that with inoculation programs moving at different speeds, vaccine passports may help only much later in the year when all of Europe is protected.
Some nations are showing more caution about the use of proof of inoculation as a basis for reopening to tourists. Thailand, whose palm-fringed beaches and temples have made it the biggest destination for international tourists in Southeast Asia, plans to shorten the mandatory isolation for vaccinated foreigners by half, to seven days, beginning in April.
Nonvaccinated travelers will have to quarantine three days longer. The country, dependent on tourism for a fifth of its GDP, won’t scrap quarantines completely until October and the start of the high season, Deputy Premier Anutin Charnvirakul said in March.
Bill Barnett, founder of hospitality consultants C9 Hotelworks Co., on the holiday island of Phuket, says that there’s widespread concern about the risk of letting outsiders back into the country and that vaccine passports by themselves won’t change that. “It’s a case of needing to win over hearts and minds,” he says.
“There’s still a fear factor out there.” That fear led to pushback against early moves to reopen Phuket, Barnett says, triggering a drive to vaccinate the local population to achieve herd immunity.
Economies where tourism is a more marginal activity have narrower ambitions. Australia plans to grant access to vaccinated travelers from New Zealand and Singapore, despite being effectively closed to visitors for a year and having barely 150 active Covid cases.
Foreign tourists may be able to visit Bali again as soon as June, if they come from countries with successful vaccination programs, Indonesian Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno said on March 18, though as many as 2 million Bali residents will need to be vaccinated first.
The pace of the return of visitors from China will be a huge factor for Asian tourism. Totaling 155 million outbound tourists in 2019, Chinese are among the biggest foreign visitors to Japan, Thailand, and Vietnam, as well as key customers of luxury retailers in cities as far afield as Paris and Rome.
International visitors who want to enter China could face some vaccine nationalism: China in March said it would ease entry requirements for foreigners who’ve been inoculated with a Covid vaccine produced in China. No such vaccines have yet been authorized by U.S. health officials.
The reaction to Britain’s announcement of a road map for resuming travel starting in mid-May suggests there’s certainly burgeoning demand, with TUI reporting a sixfold jump in reservations to Greece, Spain, and Turkey overnight on the news and U.K. discount airline EasyJet Plc saying ticket sales have quadrupled.
On Paxos, Mastoras is preparing more than 30 craft for the coming season. Bookings have surged in the past month, he says, mostly from Britons who’ve already had the shot.
Vaccine certificates might even help erode some of the wariness he saw among customers during a brief reopening in July and August. “Families and groups of friends had the opportunity to be together, and it was good,” he says. “But our boat trips didn’t work out at all. Strangers didn’t feel comfortable mingling.”
Jabs vs. Jab-Nots: Vaccine Passports Will Exclude Less Fortunate
Passes for travel risk leaving the poor and vulnerable behind.
On March 15, Britain’s Parliament turned to the question of the moment: how to reopen pubs, cinemas, and soccer stadiums. Almost half the adult population, after all, has gotten a Covid-19 shot, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has declared that the end of the crisis “really is in sight.”
At the heart of the discussion was the “vaccine passport,” a smartphone app or a slip of paper that would attest to inoculation, granting bearers the freedom to travel, go to concerts and cafes, or even just return to the office.
Yet what sounds like a practical solution to an unprecedented problem opens the door to a host of ethical and legal concerns. “It would mean passes for the pub,” Conservative MP Steve Baker thundered in a parliamentary debate. “I did not think that is the society that we wished to live in.”
Politicians, ethicists, and epidemiologists worldwide are grappling with the same issue. As vaccine rollouts accelerate in the U.K., U.S., and beyond, how do we open up safely, letting people who have protection and are demonstrably Covid‑free return to pre-pandemic life without risk to the rest of the population?
More important, how do we do that in a way that’s equitable, because passports could easily benefit the wealthy and more fortunate while leaving behind minority groups and the poor.
“There’s an important sense that we’re all in this together, and it’s only as a society that we get out, but if you allow some people to have freedoms and privileges but not others, it may erode that sense of solidarity,” says David Archard, chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in London. “There are clear benefits, but I think on balance the potential risks and harms outweigh the gains.”
Providing proof of vaccination isn’t new. Many tropical and subtropical countries require travelers to show they’ve been inoculated against yellow fever, and others want proof of a polio vaccine from at least some travelers. But a Covid passport program would require global coordination on an unprecedented scale, spurring myriad efforts to offer one.
The nonprofit Commons Project and the World Economic Forum have talked with officials from 52 countries about developing what they call CommonPass, aimed at returning travel and trade to pre-crisis levels. The International Air Transport Association, the airline trade group, is working on a similar idea.
The European Union has outlined plans for digital certificates to facilitate movement around the bloc. U.S. airlines have pushed the Biden administration to set standards for health passes.
Even without government directives, businesses such as restaurants and theaters may take the lead and require customers to show they’ve been vaccinated. But companies that implement measures such as “no jab, no job” policies risk legal challenges, University of Oxford professors Christopher Dye and Melinda Mills wrote on March 19 in the journal Science.
“Freedom of choice for individual employees, set against a firm’s duty and preference for the care of all staff, might be tested in court,” they wrote.
“Vaccine inequity is a huge problem that is potentially made worse by this system”
The biggest concern for many health advocates is access to vaccines. More than three months after the first shots were approved for use in Britain, differences in vaccination rates are stark.
Although the U.K. has given at least one dose to more than 40% of its population, and the U.S. to about a quarter, vast swaths of the globe are still waiting, with just 10 countries accounting for three-fourths of all the vaccines administered.
“There is a huge disparity in availability and access between high-income and low- and middle-income countries,” says Mark Eccleston-Turner, a law and infectious disease specialist at Keele University in England. “If we then attach vaccine passporting to that, we’re going to end up with a very clear two-tier system.”
The Uncertain Science Behind Vaccine Passports
Questions regarding the efficacy and duration of competing shots stoke concern about using vaccination status as the metric to allow travel.
Governments from Beijing to Brussels are turning to vaccine passports as a way to safely reopen international travel or provide cover to businesses that require close contact or large gatherings.
But given all the uncertainty about the relative efficacy or longevity of competing shots—especially in the face of new variants—the use of vaccination status as a societal get-out-of-jail card remains a leap of faith, medical professionals say.
“It may be that the immunity against Covid-19 will differ from vaccine to vaccine, and since we haven’t had these vaccines out there for very long, we may not be able to tell for two years,” says Birger Forsberg, a professor of international health at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. “You can speculate, you can make theoretical or immunological models and so on, but as it is said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”
Few places illustrate the tensions as clearly as the European Union, which is badly trailing the U.S. in its vaccination campaign and relies on free movement of people as a central pillar of its existence.
That concept has been under assault during the pandemic, as countries close borders—at times seemingly overnight—for the first time since World War II.
The European Commission in March proposed its Digital Green Certificate, which would be issued to those who have recovered from Covid, recently received a negative test result, or been vaccinated with a shot approved by the European Medicines Agency. For now, that includes vaccines only from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson.
So much for the easy part. EU rules allow individual member states to clear vaccines on their own in emergencies.
Some Eastern European countries have done just that, giving nods to shots including Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm. Under the EU’s plan, any country that clears an alternative shot can grant special privileges—say, lifting testing or quarantine measures—to anyone who’s gotten that same shot elsewhere.
But other EU countries don’t need to extend those entitlements. That’s miffing countries like Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán received the Sinopharm shot. “A potential Covid passport can’t be discriminatory against anyone,” Hungary Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said on March 16.
“All vaccines approved by national authorities in accordance with European rules must be recognized in European Covid passports.”
Although the crop of vaccines approved in the U.S. and Europe have demonstrated impressive abilities to prevent mild to severe cases of Covid, it’s unclear how well they stop transmission—or how long that protection will last.
That’s one reason many medical experts continue to urge vaccinated people to follow social distancing guidelines.
Encouraging data are emerging. A study in Israel found that the Pfizer shot blocked 94% of asymptomatic infections after people received the second dose, strong evidence for a drastic reduction in transmission.
Just a single shot of an AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccine given to U.K. health workers appeared to reduce the rate of infection for others in their households by at least 30%, according to another study.
Yet it’s hard to compare the efficacy of different shots, because their clinical trials took place at different times and locations. The J&J shot underwent trials amid an explosion of more highly transmissible variants such as the one first seen in South Africa; the Pfizer/BioNTech jab did not.
And while researchers are studying how well shots perform against existing variants, it’s impossible to say how they’ll fare against strains that emerge later—which suggests that a vaccine passport’s supposed seal of approval for a person’s protection against Covid could fade with time.
There’s also a risk that countries could change their positions on which vaccines they consider reliable. Europe has already changed its mind repeatedly about how safe and effective the AstraZeneca shot is. Such reversals could cause headaches for people who are far from home.
“What happens if I’m sitting in another country and my vaccine is paused?” says Melinda Mills, who recently co-led a report on vaccine passports for the Royal Society. “What is a valid vaccine? It’s a moving target.”
For the foreseeable future, those questions won’t even apply for many people, simply because they won’t have received a Covid shot. That’s certainly true for most children around the world, which raises the question of whether vaccine passports make sense in the near term for family travel.
That’s why the EU is including testing and proof of having already recovered from Covid as the two other paths to enjoying the benefits of its proposed passport. Still, these are also imperfect ways to show someone won’t touch off new clusters of infection.
The pandemic is just over a year old, yet there are growing numbers of documented instances in which people have been reinfected—a threat that will only grow as variants mount.
And while requiring people to show up at a border with a very recent negative Covid test is certainly a helpful step, it’s not foolproof. Many European countries required such tests when they loosened border restrictions last year, and still found that travel was a driver in the surge of cases they experienced in the late summer and fall.
“Addressing the challenges of vaccine passports is like peeling an onion,” says Howard Koh, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who also served as an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama. “There are just many, many layers that you don’t necessarily consider when you start thinking about the issue. There could be many unintended consequences.”
Global Tourism Looks Shaky With Herd Immunity A Distant Dream
Vaccine passports may help spur more travel, but vaccination rates suggest many countries have a long road ahead.
Global tourism can’t revive until more nations tame Covid-19. But at present vaccination rates, it will take years before many tourism-dependent countries vaccinate 75% of their population—the level at which viral transmission eases.
NY Governor Cuomo Launches Blockchain-Powered Vaccination Passports
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has launched of a blockchain-powered vaccination passport built on top of IBM’s Digital Health Pass.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the launch of the city’s blockchain-powered “Excelsior Pass” vaccination passport on March 26.
The passport is issued through a free and voluntary platform that verifies Covid-19 vaccinations or negative test results via a QR code for smartphone scanning or printing. The Excelsior Pass is intended to assist the process of reopening businesses and public venues across New York.
The vaccination passport is built on IBM’s blockchain-powered Digital Health Pass, which enables a user’s identity, vaccination history, and test results to be verified and securely shared without revealing unrelated personal information.
In the announcement, Governor Cuomo emphasized the importance of utilizing technology to reopen in a way that caters to both public health and the economy:
“As more New Yorkers get vaccinated each day and as key public health metrics continue to regularly reach their lowest rates in months, the first-in-the-nation Excelsior Pass heralds the next step in our thoughtful, science-based reopening.”
Steve LaFleche, General Manager of IBM Public and Federal Markets, pride in assisting New York’s plan for reopening, stating: “IBM is proud to support the State of New York with its efforts to apply innovative technologies to help residents and communities respond to COVID-19.”
Cuomo first revealed plans for a blockchain-powered vaccination passport on March 2, following a successful trial of the system at a Brooklyn Nets NBA game the previous week.
Covid-19 Vaccination Cards Are The Only Proof Of Shots, Soon An Essential
The U.S. lacks a central database for immunizations due to privacy concerns, leaving nonstandardized impermanent cards as the sole record of shots.
Millions of adults vaccinated against Covid-19 have little to prove it beyond a paper card they received at inoculation sites.
The U.S. has no central database for immunizations. States maintain an incomplete patchwork of records. Nor is there standard proof of Covid-19 vaccinations like the yellow-fever cards that are required for travel to many countries where that disease remains prevalent.
With some countries and businesses preparing to make digital proof of vaccination a requirement for entry and travel, the paper cards may be the only ticket to access those platforms. Proof is already being requested on some first dates and at weddings.
“I’m glad we prioritized getting shots in arms,” said Ami Parekh, chief medical officer at digital healthcare company Grand Rounds Inc., which acts as a kind of medical concierge for patients. “But putting in rules about being vaccinated without giving people a way to properly track it is a little bit backwards.”
The cards themselves are a patchwork of formats. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designed a version, which many locations use, but it isn’t required.
State and local authorities and even individual sites are devising their own cards to hand out. With no official standard, it may be hard to say what constitutes proof.
Fake U.S. vaccination certificates are already selling for $200 a pop, according to Check Point Software Technologies, a Tel Aviv-based cybersecurity company that monitors less-accessible parts of the internet where everything from cyber weapons to drugs are sold. Users simply send their details and money, the company said, and the seller emails back fake documents.
“We’re setting ourselves up for a big problem down the road,” said Ekram Ahmed, a Check Point spokesman.
Andy Slavitt, President Biden’s senior adviser on Covid-19, acknowledged Monday that people would want documentation to show they had received the Covid-19 vaccine. But he deferred to the private sector on establishing credentials, citing concerns over privacy and security if the process was overseen by the federal government.
“There will be no centralized universal federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday. “We’ll leverage our resources to ensure that all vaccination-credential systems meet key standards—whether that’s universal accessibility, affordability [or] availability, both digitally and on paper.”
Security experts are talking about a single digital standard. But public-health researchers say a national database for storing vaccination records has been politically fraught in the U.S., with a ban in place since 1998 for any system that would create national identifiers for individual patients.
The ban was spearheaded by then-Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas), who said a national identifier system would be an unwarranted privacy intrusion.
A coalition of healthcare organizations tried to repeal the ban as recently as 2020, saying it needlessly added to costs in the healthcare system and that any widespread vaccination effort would hinge on accurate patient identification. The House removed the ban, but in November an effort in the Senate failed, leaving it in place.
States have their own vaccination databases that are maintained with varying accuracy. In November 2020, just over half of states reported having immunization registries in place that were comprehensive or reliable, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.
Carbon Health, a San Francisco-based health provider that operates clinics, has been distributing Covid-19 digital vaccination cards in California that can be stored in an Apple wallet and linked to a patient’s information in the state’s vaccination database.
Unlike countries with central patient registries that simplify tracking vaccination status, the U.S. has different databases and systems in different states that are largely incomplete, said Eren Bali, co-founder and chief executive of Carbon Health.
Mr. Bali said when the company took over vaccinations in certain sites late January, they found no official record had been entered into the state database for 20% of patients.
“We had to chase tens of thousands of patients to understand what had happened; it took us a month to clean it up,” he said.
A coalition of insurance, technology and healthcare companies including Mayo Clinic, Cigna Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are pushing for a single, digital standard for individuals to access their vaccination records. They say that the many organizations already looking into the idea of digital cards are creating conflicting models.
In the absence of national or international standards, millions of Americans who have been vaccinated are coming up with ways to protect the piece of paper that could be their only vaccination record.
“They are making copies and laminating the copies,” said Lisa Yue, owner of Shipping & Beyond in Chicago’s Little Italy Neighborhood. She said she is recommending sheet protectors instead since they won’t permanently change the cards.
Rick Murray, the 64-year-old managing partner of SHIFT Communications, said when he took a flight to California this month, his first business trip since the pandemic began, he wasn’t sure if he would need his vaccine credentials. He decided to carry his vaccination card in his passport and take a photo of the card just in case.
“I know it’s incredibly important, but no one has asked for anything yet,” he said.
The cards may also be useful to employers seeking proof their workers are vaccinated to reduce the risk of on-the-job transmission and eventually, to relax some stringent and costly workplace-safety measures. Some companies are using other means to verify that their staff is vaccinated, like insurance claims.
At Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc., which is offering a free doughnut every day to anyone with proof of vaccination, the evidence varies. T.J. Pierson, general manager of a Krispy Kreme in Elk Grove Village, Ill., said the phone calls were nonstop, with many asking what they needed to bring to prove they had been vaccinated.
“I’ve had ones that are half sheets of paper. I’ve seen wallet-sized cards,” he said. “They’re all different.”
Sydney Robinson, 68, came in for his free doughnut for the second day in a row. He is folding his wallet around his CDC emblazoned card because it doesn’t fit in a credit-card slot but said the National Guardsman at his vaccination site also warned him to take a photo of it.
The Miami Heat Runs A Tricky Play: Prime Seats For The Vaccinated
With no sign of an imminent electronic system to provide proof of vaccination to enter live events, venues are experimenting with their own approaches.
The Miami Heat is about to become the first sports franchise to attempt a groundbreaking play: requiring some fans to show proof of vaccination in order to get into games.
It’s a decidedly low-tech operation, relying on paper cards distributed to the vaccinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It will also, quite possibly, never be widely adopted.
Around 450 Heat fans who flash CDC cards on Thursday showing they are fully vaccinated will be able to enter through a separate gate to gain access to two special “vaccinated sections” in AmericanAirlines Arena.
They will still be required to mask, but can sit closer together than the other 3,500 fans there—and know that they’re only around other vaccinated people.
The team says it’s a chance to test something that patrons want, expand attendance capacity, and boost the benefits of vaccination. “We’re eager to get more fans back in the building, and to incentivize vaccinations and get the word out that vaccinations can return us to normalcy,” said Matthew Jafarian, executive vice president of business strategy.
The operation requires checking 450 cards against names on government-issued identifications to ascertain the type of vaccine the holder got, and whether the fans got their required one or two doses more than two weeks ago.
“We are a business that has two decades dealing with verifying where people are sitting, if they’re in the right place. We’ve been dealing with fraudulent tickets, we’ve been checking people’s IDs for alcohol,” said Jafarian. He added: “But nobody’s done this before. And so we’re going to learn a lot.”
Madison Square Garden says that New York Knicks and Rangers fans will also now be allowed to attend by showing either proof of vaccination or of a recent negative test, after previously only accepting negative test results.
For test results, MSG has accepted results from fans displayed on a smartphone or a printout, directly from the healthcare provider that performed the test, that match the name on their identification. It has also started this week allowing results to be displayed on a New York State app, Excelsior, though that is in its infancy. At 10% capacity, a maximum of 2,000 people are coming for now.
Doubts about the process have seemingly deterred most other venues, who have indicated they would only consider implementing checks on tens of thousands of individual ticket holders if local authorities demand it and they have technology to handle it—something that’s also looking increasingly unlikely.
Instead, they’re watching vaccine rates in general, effectively trusting the odds will be in everyone’s favor.
“If we truly can get to the point of full vaccination late spring, then of course there will be changes in how many people can gather safely in an arena,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wrote in an email. “As the protocols change in accordance with the data, we will be ready and able to expand our audiences to as many as we safely can.”
Angela de Cespedes, a litigation partner in Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr’s sports and entertainment practice group whose clients include sports franchises, said that setting up a system to confirm every patron’s vaccination status was far more complex and risky than any one venue would be willing to take on.
Distancing, masking, discouraging yelling and changing eating arrangements are all significantly easier adaptations to increase fan capacity as vaccination numbers generally grew, she said.
“Until we turn that corner when we feel more comfortable, and we have a system in place that makes sense, that’s logical, that works logistically on a wider scale, it’s just not going to be feasible,” she said. “I don’t see that getting implemented in any large-scale manner at all in 2021.”
Venue operators privately agree, citing concerns such as wading into the highly regulated area of health privacy, amid potentially shifting findings from medical research over how long vaccinations may be effective.
The Biden administration has repeatedly said that it won’t be creating a national registry of vaccinations, saying it is looking instead to the private sector.
Some operators had been eyeing Ticketmaster, and the possibility it would modify its platform to offer test and vaccination tracking and take the problem off venues’ hands.
Given its dominant position in ticketing, that could effectively create a system that would be easy for venues to adopt, and local authorities to require.
Ticketmaster, however, is waiting for signals from authorities to move ahead—effectively keeping the idea going in circles.
“We’re looking to government leaders to guide us on what is necessary to bring back live events until vaccines are widely available and we are free to gather without restrictions,” the company said in a statement.
A person familiar with the company’s thinking said that increasingly, it seemed that it might not be worth it to ramp up a technological solution when demand might soon end.
Ticketmaster faced public blowback in November when it was reported to be working on a tool that could allow venues to confirm a ticket holder’s vaccine status or recent test results, and quickly sought to distance itself from the idea.
“We are not forcing anyone to do anything. Just exploring the ability to enhance our existing digital ticket capabilities to offer solutions for event organizers that could include testing and vaccine information with 3rd party health providers,” the statement said. It added: “There is absolutely no requirement from Ticketmaster mandating vaccines/testing for future events.”
‘It’s Not Just About What’s On That Card’: Don’t Post Your COVID-19 Vaccination Card On Social Media — Here’s Why
‘Why give the bad guys more ammunition than they need?’
You may not see the risk in sharing an Instagram or Twitter TWTR, +0.31% selfie, vaccination card in hand, celebrating your inoculation against the novel coronavirus. But identity-theft experts and consumer advocates advise thinking twice before posting that information online.
“Any time you post personal information about yourself, you elevate your risk,” Eva Velasquez, the president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center, told MarketWatch. “It’s not just about what’s on that card; it’s about what else is out there on you — and with the state of data breaches in this country, you can be sure there is information out there about you.”
Such warnings have particular relevance as more than a dozen states plan to expand vaccine eligibility to all adults this week. As of Wednesday, about 29% of the U.S. population had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 16% had been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A good alternative to posting your card online is simply a photo of you flashing a thumbs up, informing your friends or followers that you got the vaccine, said Carrie Kerskie, an identity-theft consultant, speaker and author based in Florida. You could also post a picture of your vaccination sticker. But nobody else needs to see that physical card, she said.
Details That May Seem Harmless
Vaccination cards issued as physical proof of immunization are not standardized, and some states and localities are issuing their own versions.
But the widely used CDC-designed paper vaccination cards include fields for the person’s full name; date of birth; patient number; vaccine manufacturer and lot number; dates of vaccination; and the healthcare professional or clinic site involved in administering the vaccine.
While those details might seem harmless enough — after all, birthday information is already ubiquitous on sites like Facebook FB, +1.40% — consumer agencies and organizations have cautioned that bad actors could leverage this information for identity-theft purposes, particularly if your account’s privacy settings are lax.
“Social media is no place for COVID-19 vaccination cards,” the Federal Trade Commission warned in February. “Once identity thieves have the pieces they need, they can use the information to open new accounts in your name, claim your tax refund for themselves, and engage in other identity theft.”
‘Nothing Surprises Me Anymore’
When it comes to identity theft, “it’s all about putting together pieces of the puzzle” that is your digital identity, said Kerskie. “The more information a bad guy or an identity thief has about you, the greater chance of their success,” she told MarketWatch.
It’s true that some of the data on that card, like your name, is already publicly available, Velasquez added. But it also contains your date of birth, and potentially some health information. “It’s one of those things where, do you really want to take that chance?” she said. “I don’t want to be alarmist about it, but I also don’t think it’s as innocuous as most people think.”
After all, Velasquez said, a bad actor armed with knowledge about your vaccination status, the vaccine you received, and the region where you live could target you with a phone or email scam that leverages that small amount of information to gain your trust and “get you to part with additional information.” “I do think that’s a real concern,” she said.
A bad actor could target you with a phone or email scam that leverages that small amount of information to gain your trust.
Or, Kerskie suggested, a bad actor could reach out claiming the organization that administered your vaccine had a database breach and now wants to offer you free ID-monitoring services — and send you a link to input sensitive information.
“This is kind of a stretch, but in the world that we’re in today, nothing surprises me anymore,” she said.
Legitimate organizations are always trying to find creative ways to validate an identity, Kerskie added, and information about when or where you received your COVID-19 vaccine could eventually become part of an identity-verification question.
“There are a lot of different things that could be done with it — so again, why give the bad guys more ammunition than they need?” she said.
With several versions of a so-called vaccine passport now in the works — and the recent launch of New York state’s digital Excelsior Pass platform — Velasquez also urged against using vaccine-passport apps or platforms whose legitimacy you can’t verify.
Wait until there’s more information about the legitimate landscape of vaccine passports, she said, as this is currently a “moving target” that’s ripe for fraud.
Scammers Are Selling Fake Vaccination Cards
A late-January news release by the Better Business Bureau cautioned that sharing vaccination-card photos could supply scammers with the information they need to create and sell forgeries.
“Scammers in Great Britain were caught selling fake vaccination cards on eBay EBAY, +3.05% and TikTok,” the Bureau said. “It’s only a matter of time before similar cons come to the United States and Canada.”
According to Velasquez, “that cat’s out of the bag.” “We are already seeing forgeries of vaccination cards for sale on the dark web,” she said.
A recent analysis by the cybersecurity company Check Point Software Technologies found examples of vaccination certificates “being manufactured, created and printed to order, ready to be used to enable people to board planes, cross borders or for any relevant activity that requires a person to give proof that they have been vaccinated.”
In one screenshot published in the report, a person was selling a fake CDC vaccination card for $150, and said they would accept bitcoin BTCUSD, 0.03% as payment.
‘The Well-Known Limitation Of HIPAA’
What about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the federal healthcare privacy law? Nicolas Terry, the executive director of the Hall Center for Law and Health at Indiana University, told MarketWatch “there isn’t much of a legal angle” related to individuals posting their own vaccination cards online.
HIPAA shields protected health information, including vaccine records, from disclosure by a covered entity such as a doctor or hospital, Terry explained — but in this case, the disclosure is by the patient, not the covered entity.
“What it does illustrate is the well-known limitation of HIPAA in that it doesn’t apply to health information circulating on, [for example], social media,” he said.
Still, Terry advised against posting vaccination cards due to the “surprising amount of information” that could aid in an identity-theft attempt, not to mention “the lack of sensitivity it shows with regard to those who are as yet unvaccinated.” While eligibility across the country is expanding, supply remains limited.
“People don’t stop and think what they’re doing,” Kerskie said. “‘Oh, I just want to share this with my friends.’ You’re not — you’re sharing it with the entire world.”
Airlines Want Vaccine Passports But Don’t Want To Pay For Them
As Europe plans document to store Covid-19 data, industry raises concerns about potential costs.
Airlines are resisting early European Union plans that could push some of the costs and responsibility for implementing vaccination passports onto the industry.
The EU is moving ahead with plans to roll out a “Digital Green Certificate”—a document to store Covid-19 information such as vaccination records and test results. Governments, airports and airlines hope that will spur travel across the bloc by making it easier to check if passengers have been inoculated.
“Vaccines are what is going to ultimately allow us to start recovering as an industry,” said Olivier Jankovec, director general of Airports Council International Europe, a trade body of airports. “It’s what is going to allow Europeans to be mobile again.”
On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are fully vaccinated against the new coronavirus can travel without serious risk, easing its blanket advice against travel.
The EU plan is still in flux, but governments are fast-tracking the project for a mid-June rollout. The basic concept: Europeans who are vaccinated will be issued a certificate, either paper or electronic, with a bar code that can be scanned at airports to verify vaccination.
While airlines back the effort, they are lobbying against initial proposals that could hand them the responsibility for making the system work. They also are resisting the idea of bar-code scanning at airports, saying that could increase wait times at check-in.
Many airports already are straining with long lines, under the weight of new health checks required of fliers during the pandemic.
The EU is setting up the system similarly to how it polices travel visas for citizens outside the bloc’s normally visa-free zone. While visa inspection is officially done by border guards, airlines have long been assigned the job of checking whether passengers have the right visas before they board.
Airlines are subject to fines of up to 10,000 euros, equivalent to $11,700, in some European jurisdictions, if they let a traveler land in a country without the proper visa.
Airlines say they can’t afford the risk of more such fines or the extra costs of policing vaccine and Covid-19 documentation. Carriers burned through $140 billion in cash between March and December last year, according to estimates by the International Air Transport Association, and are forecast to lose as much as $95 billion in 2021.
“Airlines cannot afford to bear the costs for these improvements,” said Thomas Reynaert, managing director for Airlines for Europe, which represents airlines including British Airways, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Air France-KLM Group. Any new costs will be borne by all airlines that operate from European airports, not just European carriers, under the proposal.
It isn’t yet clear how much the system could cost. Airlines are concerned they will be expected to bear the costs of additional staff and equipment to operate the system, as well as integrating it into existing airline infrastructure, in addition to shouldering potential fines.
The EU’s proposal provides $49 million to develop a central gateway for governments to connect to, with each separately determining how best to implement it on a national level, including how verification checks will be handled on the ground, said Johannes Bahrke, a spokesman for the European Commission.
In some member states, governments may decide to use government officials to check the vaccine passport, but in others the responsibility could fall on the airlines, Mr. Bahrke said.
Mr. Bahrke said it is up to individual states to decide on any fines. Some governments already are fining airlines for not properly checking that passengers have the right health documents now required in many countries.
The proposal still requires formal ratification from the European Parliament. Aiming for the June rollout, the commission and member states have started work on the system’s development, including signing contracts in late March to get technical work under way, the spokesman said.
Countries including China, Japan, Denmark and Israel have said they are working on independent vaccine-passport systems. The World Health Organization is working with the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization to develop a global structure to support vaccine certificates.
For Europe, the introduction of vaccine passports is seen as vital to reinstating freedom of movement across the bloc—one of the founding tenets of the EU. A system that can verify a passenger’s vaccination status also frees travelers from the expense of private Covid-19 tests that are required for entry into many countries. Those tests can cost up to $200, and often two are required.
“It changes the economics of travel,” said Virginia Messina, senior vice president at the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council.
The industry and the European Commission are trying to establish the wider framework for the system in time for summer. The first step is standardizing vaccine cards that are given to people after they have been vaccinated.
In Europe, those cards vary widely, with different languages and variations on the personal details included. In the U.S., there isn’t a central database for immunizations or a standard proof of Covid-19 vaccinations like the yellow-fever cards that are required for travel to many countries.
Once the system has been rolled out successfully within Europe, the commission plans to extend it to incoming non-EU citizens. Depending on bilateral agreements, an arriving passenger—for example, from the U.S.—could receive a certificate and bar code on arrival into the bloc, which can then be used to travel between European countries.
The industry, concerned about physical checks creating long lines at airports, is pushing for an online system that could avoid the issue if borders reopen by the summer.
Airlines including British Airways are running trials that allow passengers, when checking in online, to upload vaccination and test records to their travel apps alongside data that are already kept there, such as passport numbers and visa information.
White House Rejects U.S. Vaccine Passports, Skirting Uproar
The U.S. government won’t issue so-called vaccine passports, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, after Texas sought to limit their development because of privacy concerns.
“The government is not now, nor will we be, supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Psaki told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. “There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
The administration wants to protect Americans’ privacy and doesn’t want vaccine passports “used against people unfairly,” Psaki said.
Some businesses and colleges are pushing for people to show proof of vaccination — before, say, boarding cruise ships, entering stadiums, or returning to campus — as a way to safely resume pre-pandemic operations.
For instance, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings plans to resume cruising from U.S. ports starting July 4 and will require vaccinations of guests and crew, the company said. Brown University and Northeastern University on Tuesday joined a group of universities that will require students to get a Covid-19 vaccine in order to return to campus in the fall.
Vaccine passports are usually conceived of as smartphone apps that would show the holder has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, easing travel and use of services like restaurants. The White House has previously said any such efforts should be led by the private and not-for-profit sectors.
Several states say they won’t facilitate such requirements.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican, issued an order Tuesday forbidding state agencies or any entity receiving public money from requiring vaccine passports.
That effort follows a similar ban by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, also a Republican, on the sort of Excelsior Pass established in New York State that allows residents to verify their vaccinations or negative test results before entering concert venues or stadiums.
Psaki said the administration would provide guidance “that provides important answers to questions that Americans have, in particular around concerns about privacy, security, or discrimination soon.”
There’s sharp debate on the issue in the U.K. and other countries. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on course for a battle with members of Parliament over plans to introduce vaccine passports as part of opening up services.
In that country, so-called Covid-status certificates — based on proof of a vaccine, a negative test or immunity for those who have recovered from the virus — could eventually eliminate the need for testing of audiences at live events and passengers heading on international trips, under government plans.
Vaccination Passports Are New Flashpoint In Covid-19 Pandemic
With no federal mandate to require a single vaccination credential, the private sector and local governments are filling the gaps.
Vaccine passports are emerging as the latest polarizing issue in the Covid-19 pandemic, as policy makers debate whether Americans should have proof of inoculation to return to work, travel or attend events.
The Biden administration has said there will be no federal mandate for a single vaccination credential, leaving the issue of whether to require evidence and how to police it to local governments and the private sector.
That has set up a patchwork of policy-making, with dozens of bills making their way through state legislatures across the country—mostly seeking to ban vaccination requirements—and governors taking opposing stands.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has said his administration is discussing the creation of a standardized record for people to show they have been vaccinated.
In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has said government agencies, private businesses and institutions that received state funding can’t require people to show proof that they have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced Excelsior Pass, a program that allows people to prove their vaccination or Covid-19 status via smartphone app or printout.
Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order last month prohibiting businesses from requiring patrons or employees to provide documentation certifying Covid-19 vaccination. Those who don’t follow the rules would no longer be eligible for grants or contracts funded by the state, according to the order.
Those in favor of vaccine passports say it is the safest and quickest way to reopen economies, while detractors say they would impinge on individual rights and delay economic recoveries.
The debate has spilled over into social media posts, calling the passports everything from un-American to an entry point to a two-tier society that would discriminate against the unvaccinated.
Some foreign countries, airlines, entertainment venues and other entities are discussing systems in which proof of vaccination will be the new standard for resuming once-ordinary activities.
Big U.S. airlines are generally against requiring vaccines for domestic or international travel. But some airline executives have said vaccine passports could help streamline global travel and they mainly want federal guidelines to ensure that any Covid-19 health certifications will be valid around the world and that they protect customer privacy.
Speaking at a March 31 aviation industry conference, Boeing Co. Chief Executive David Calhoun said he was open to the idea of a health passport.
“Coming to grips with what that standard looks like and getting enough representative countries to sign up, I think that’s the challenge,” he said.
For cruise line workers and travelers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended vaccinations but hasn’t said they should be required.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. said it would require passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before boarding a ship. Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Group will also require vaccinations for certain sailings abroad.
“This is a situation where the government isn’t taking a clear stance, the public is deeply divided and businesses don’t know what to do,” said Erica DeWald, advocacy director at Vaccinate Your Family, which promotes vaccination education and policy.
Absent a digital standard, the current evidence of vaccination—the paper cards handed out at vaccination sites—could be easy to fake.
The CDC has designed a version, which many locations use, but it isn’t required. State and local authorities and even individual sites are coming up with their own cards.
A consortium of 46 of the country’s state attorneys general is calling on eBay Inc., Twitter Inc. and Shopify Inc. to take action to remove users attempting to sell fake vaccination cards online.
The cards, which were initially sold only on less accessible parts of the internet, have started showing up for sale on mainstream websites, potentially allowing unvaccinated people to pose as vaccinated.
“People who buy fake cards can have their own information added to the card or add it in themselves, so it appears they have been vaccinated when they have not,” the letter says. The consortium distributed images of various sellers offering vaccination cards online.
Shopify, Twitter and eBay all said they were taking measures to quickly block or remove vendors selling counterfeit cards.
So far, it is unclear how widespread the practice of vaccination verification will be.
Business Roundtable, a national association of chief executives, said its member companies are focused on the safety of their employees and customers and vaccine passports are a tool some members may deploy.
Dena Bravata, chief medical officer of Castlight Health, a healthcare navigation platform that works with dozens of Fortune 500 companies that are privately insured, said that in surveying clients, the vast majority outside the healthcare industry either have no plans to mandate vaccines or are undecided. Those that are requesting vaccination information are doing it largely on the honor system.
“We are not seeing mandatory vaccinations,” she said. “Employers aren’t using the word ‘passport.’”
Instead, she said, they are focused on providing information about the vaccine and incentives for those who are vaccinated, including extra paid time off.
With many in the U.S. still hesitant to take the vaccine, many large employers don’t want to add one more element to scare them off, Dr. Bravata said.
Media intelligence firm Zignal Labs, which analyzes content across social media, broadcast, traditional and online media, said posts about vaccine passports have exploded in the past two weeks.
The vaccine passport narrative first gained traction online in mid-February, the firm said, in response to a U.K.-based petition titled, “Do not rollout Covid-19 vaccine passports.” The term “vaccine passports” garnered 67,363 mentions during the week of Feb. 15.
By the week of March 29, “vaccine passports” had more than 1.6 million mentions, driven by the Florida executive order and tweets from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Donald Trump Jr. that opposed them, according to Zignal Labs.
Legislation aimed at preventing employers from requiring vaccinations specifically mentions “vaccine passports” in seven states.
Bills in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kentucky against requiring proof of inoculation have gained traction. In Utah, the state passed a bill that allows college students to claim a philosophical exemption to getting the Covid-19 vaccine.
In Connecticut, a bill is under consideration that would remove all but medical exemptions for vaccination. In Arkansas, a bill is being considered that would bar people from being required to show proof of vaccination or proof of a negative Covid-19 test for entry, travel, education, employment or other services.
The Hazlitt Coalition, a network of 178 legislators from 37 states supported by the libertarian-leaning Young Americans for Liberty, is behind 25 of those bills, saying that Covid-19-related documentation infringes on civil liberties.
“The idea of having to carry around your health papers to go to the grocery store is something out of an Orwell novel,” said the group’s interim President Sean Themea.
Meanwhile, outside the U.S., requirements are likely to differ from country to country, said Ronald Raether, partner and lead of the cybersecurity, information governance and privacy team at law firm Troutman Pepper.
And with so many vaccinated individuals traveling, it opens up a marketplace for private developers, who could use that information not only to digitally store proof of vaccination, but also help consumers book hotels or offer discounts for their advertisers. Some airlines already have apps that request health information.
“There’s going to be different verification standards. It’s going to happen,” Mr. Raether said. “There’s too much economic pressure to jump start all of these struggling economies.”
International Travel Won’t Rely On Fancy Vaccine Passports
The best way to reopen borders fast is for rich countries to send vaccines to poor ones.
The World Health Agency has stepped into the controversy over vaccine passports, announcing its opposition. Not enough is known about whether the vaccines prevent transmission, says the WHO. And vaccine passports wouldn’t be fair to poorer countries where vaccination has been slow.
They might discriminate against people who can’t be vaccinated. Although the agency has been consistently late to the Covid party, this time, the WHO is probably right, albeit not entirely for the reasons it gives.
Yes, it’s true that vaccine passports would surely entrench the inequality caused by the initial distribution of inoculations. Wealthier countries, as one might expect, have purchased the lion’s share of available doses. The poorer nations are scrambling.
To demand some sort of biometric or QR code as proof of vaccination as a condition of international travel would be a poor advertisement for the West’s supposed commitment to equity.
However, the claim of inequality might be overcome if such passports are really necessary to economic recovery — as the travel and hospitality industries insist they are. But are they correct?
Maybe not. Consider Godzilla v. Kong.
The film earned close to $50 million domestically in its opening weekend, a figure nobody expected at a time when, supposedly, audiences are too scared to go to the movies. Around the world, the monster flick had close to $300 million in receipts in its first week of release.
But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Evidence is growing that the public is a lot less scared than it was a few months ago. As restaurants reopen, people are dining out in droves.
Shopping malls are crowded. Popular demand for freedom to live life is at last wearing down the restriction-by-fiat that has characterized so much of the response to the pandemic.
I say this not in criticism of public health officials but to point out that people can often make risk-versus-reward decisions on their own. It’s true, as many suggest, that our acceptance of risk might pose risks for others. But the burden of showing that these externalities are worth the burdens of special passports rests on the supporters.
They may have a hard time making their case.
For as long as vaccines have existed, people have worried about how to show that someone’s had one. Back in 1880, a letter to a medical journal complained that it was impossible to know for sure whether the smallpox vaccination worked because the only “proof of vaccination” was the scar left by the shot — a scar that the onset of disease might render invisible. Yet the world survived.
For over a century, we’ve accepted as evidence of vaccination for schoolchildren a scrap of paper with a scrawled signature, or even, at one time, the simple declaration of the child’s parents.
Overseas travelers have long been familiar with the yellow International Certificate of Vaccination, typically filled out in an inscrutable hand. If proof of vaccination matters, why do we now need a fancy QR code?
Yes, the little CDC-approved cards that show one had received the Covid-19 vaccine look easy to forge. Or even to steal: At the site where my wife and I received our shots, I noticed a package of new, unmarked cards on an unguarded shelf near the rear exit.
But the fact that it’s possible to forge or steal the cards doesn’t prove that there exists an epidemic of forgery or theft. Here I feel the same way I do about voter ID laws: Before we march any further down the road toward a society where we’re constantly proving our identities, supporters should at least be able to show with something more than anecdotes that a problem actually exists.
Yet even though we’ve survived for over a century with relatively simple proofs of vaccination against a variety of dangerous viruses, I’ve been unable to find a single reported case involving their forgery.
True, in the current crisis, fake certificates have been offered for sale on the dark web for $250 or more, but we don’t know how many takers there have been, and it’s hard to imagine that whatever demand they are sopping up will survive the widespread availability of the vaccine itself, which is free.
This in turn suggests that distributing more doses globally (estimated worldwide cost $27 billion — scarcely a drop in the U.S. bucket these days!) is the cheapest and easiest way to prevent any potential forgery. And that would have the not-insignificant benefit of helping poorer countries defeat the pandemic.
This Supreme Court Isn’t Going To Like Vaccine Passports
Governors should avoid a fight they’re likely to lose.
The consensus among legal experts seems to be that states have the right to mandate vaccine passports. The main basis is a 1905 Supreme Court case, Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which held that the Constitution wasn’t violated when the city of Cambridge required all adults to get the smallpox vaccine. Following the same logic, courts have upheld state laws mandating vaccines for schoolchildren.
But we should not assume that this deference to state power would continue under the current Supreme Court.
For one thing, the constitutional tests for infringements on personal liberty have been refined in the last half century. For another, the current court is deeply sympathetic to religious exemptions.
If large numbers of people decline vaccination on religious grounds, it would effectively undermine the power of any passport system.
The Jacobson precedent is certainly well established. It was written by Justice John Marshall Harlan (the first of two justices of that name), who established his place in the court’s pantheon by dissenting in the shameful case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which upheld racial segregation.
The Jacobson ruling rested on the idea that the state has the power to protect the common good. The court held that the Constitution does not protect individual liberty so much as to override the state’s reasonable decision to require vaccination.
As the Court put it, “the liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint.”
Today, however, the Supreme Court would analyze the issue through a different framework, one known as “strict scrutiny.” First, the court would ask if the individual’s fundamental rights were implicated by a government regulation.
If so, the court would then ask whether there was a compelling governmental interest and whether the restriction was narrowly tailored to achieving that interest — using the least restrictive means possible.
It is probable, although not absolutely certain, that the court would treat a vaccine passport as implicating a fundamental right to make healthcare decisions for one’s own body. True, requiring a passport isn’t quite as intrusive as mandating vaccination.
But it could be understood as effectively the same from the standpoint of the individual’s rights, especially if the passport were legally necessary for access to basics like public transport or workplaces.
The current Supreme Court would almost certainly hold that the state has a compelling interest in protecting public health against Covid-19 and restarting the economy. Where the rubber really meets the road, then, would be the question whether vaccine passports count as the least restrictive means to protecting the community against the virus.
States would, presumably, argue that vaccine passports are the only way to safely restart the economy and protect public health. Opponents would argue that it’s possible to restart the economy without vaccine passports.
A majority of the Supreme Court justices might well be sympathetic to the conclusion that the passport is not the least restrictive means to achieve the government’s objectives.
Vaccine Passports Are A Reality, Whatever They’re Called
It will be impossible to escape some proof of immunity to reengage in activities such as education, travel and entertainment.
I downloaded my vaccine passport the other day.
Of course, it wasn’t called a vaccine passport. Rather, it was an “Excelsior Pass,” issued by New York State. In addition to verifying that I have been fully vaccinated, it has a QR code that ticket-takers can scan when I want to go to Madison Square Garden to see the resurgent Knicks or Yankee Stadium to watch the faltering Yankees. It can also show the last time the holder has tested negative for Covid-19; more on that in a moment.
The Excelsior Pass, developed with IBM, is the first government-issued proof of vaccination in the U.S. But it won’t be the last — at least 17 more are in the works in the U.S. alone. In the media, and among government officials, vaccine passports are the subject of debate and controversy.
Right-wing pundits and politicians have denounced them as a threat to personal liberty — just like mask mandates.
Many liberals worry that they will further exacerbate “pandemic inequality” because the vaccination rate among the poor is low. Earlier this month, the White House declared that Americans would not be required to “obtain a single vaccination credential.”
On the other hand, the Washington Post reported in late March that the Department of Health and Human Services is “working to develop a standard way of handling credentials … that would allow Americans to prove they’ve been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus as businesses try to reopen.”
At a recent White House pandemic briefing, Jeff Zients, Biden’s coronavirus coordinator, said that the administration’s goal was to “help ensure that any solution in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy.”
That doesn’t exactly sound as if the administration is opposed to the idea of vaccine passports. And, indeed, it’s not. There may not be a single national passport, but states and the private sector are developing any number of certification apps.
Regardless of what they are called or however strident the opposition, vaccine passports are, in fact, going to be inevitable for any return to something resembling normal interaction.
For example, universities are going to need them soon. Several dozen universities are already requiring all incoming students for the fall 2021 semester to be vaccinated — small schools like Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, and large institutions like Duke University.
The California State University system is requiring not just students but faculty and staff to be vaccinated once the Food and Drug Administration gives the vaccines its full approval (as opposed to the current emergency use authorization).
1 With additional schools announcing vaccine mandates almost daily, it seems likely that by September the vast majority of universities will require proof that students have been vaccinated.
Given that universities have been a chief source of infection — with 535,000 Covid-19 cases, according to the New York Times — it is hardly a surprise that school officials nationwide would want a vaccinated student body. Brian Clark, a Brown University spokesman, told me that there has been very little pushback.
“Most on campus recognize that the sooner the vast majority of our community is vaccinated, the sooner we can return to a more traditional campus experience,” he wrote in an email.
Americans who want to take that long-delayed European vacation are going to need vaccine passports. Just a few days ago, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, told the New York Times that because the U.S. is using vaccines that have been approved by the European Medicines Agency, Americans would be free to travel to any of the EU countries.
But to do so, they are going to have to prove they have received one of the Pfizer, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. From the Times article:
Technical discussions have been going on for several weeks between European Union and United States officials on how to practically and technologically make vaccine certificates from each place broadly readable so that citizens can use them to travel without restrictions.
Inevitably, airlines will have to enforce any vaccine certification requirement imposed by European countries — which means that many international flights will be restricted to those who have been vaccinated and can prove it.
And on it goes. Professional sports are going to want to employ vaccine passports, especially once they are allowed to fill up their arenas. Concert venues will, too. And Broadway theaters and cruise lines; really, just about anywhere that people come in close contact.
Vaccine passports aren’t the death knell of liberty that opponents proclaim. Many people have come to take for granted a lot of mandated safety requirements that they resisted at first such as car seat belts and motorcycle helmets in some states.
“Everyone is sick of masks,” Donald G. McNeil Jr., the former New York Times pandemic reporter, wrote recently. “So the only way we’re going to finish it is through vaccination. And we do need to know who’s vaccinated.”
As I mentioned earlier, the Excelsior Pass that I downloaded doesn’t just show that I’m vaccinated, it can also keep track of Covid-19 tests. So far, venues such as Yankee Stadium allow the unvaccinated in as long as they can show they had either a negative PCR or rapid antigen test within the previous 72 hours. I suspect most other places will do the same.
Thus, people who object to the Covid-19 vaccine can’t complain of being discriminated against. They can go to ballgames or concerts and sit side by side with the vaccinated.
World’s Biggest Economies Bet Vaccine Passports Can Save Tourism
The world’s most powerful economies agreed to back plans for so-called vaccine passports in a bid to pull the travel and tourism industry out of a pandemic-fueled slump.
Tourism ministers from the Group of 20 threw their weight behind the new certificates, stressing that a resumption of normal activity for the sector is crucial to global economic recovery, according to Italian Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia.
A virtual gathering on Tuesday, the first such meeting under the Italian presidency of the forum, backed efforts for safe mobility, coordinating with initiatives including the European Union’s Digital Green Certificate. That document will show the bearer has been fully vaccinated, has immunity via recovery, or recently tested negative.
Garavaglia told a press conference in Rome that he had requested, and obtained from European Union Commissioner Thierry Breton, a commitment to accelerate introduction of the EU green certificate as much as possible. “Tourism will be the key to recovery once the pandemic is defeated,” Garavaglia said.
Travel and tourism has been one of the industries hit hardest by restrictions on activity to contain the coronavirus. Its contribution to global output collapsed by 49% to $4.7 trillion in 2020, causing the loss of 62 million jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. International visitor spending plunged by an unprecedented 69%.
“Our mountains, our beaches, our cities are reopening,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said at the press conference. “I have no doubt that tourism in Italy will come back stronger than before.”
Thomas Bareiss, a German deputy economy minister who took part in the meeting, said a new start for tourism should be guided by the principle of “build back better.”
“We agreed that we want a more resilient, more sustainable and more inclusive tourism sector in order to be better equipped for the future,” Bareiss said in an emailed statement.
EU member states would reopen borders to travelers from countries with relatively low infection rates, as well as those who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, under a proposal unveiled on Monday. It could be adopted as soon as the end of May.
Fully Vaccinated Chileans Get ‘Mobility Pass’ As Rules Eased
Chile will grant citizens who are fully vaccinated against coronavirus greater freedom in the form of a “mobility pass,” as the South American nation oversees one of the world’s fastest inoculation drives.
The electronic pass will allow greater mobility for people living under full or partial quarantines and will also make it easier for travel around the country.
Still, the permit will not alter capacity limits in place to avoid crowding, and does not exempt vaccinated people from nightly curfews, government spokesman Jaime Bellolio said during a televised press conference on Monday.
“We are not giving a carte blanche,” Bellolio said. “We are not saying that the pandemic is over, and that cautionary measures are no longer needed.”
Additionally, the permit will not apply to international travel. Chile’s government extended the closure of its borders through June 15.
Chile has vaulted ahead of most nations with a vaccination campaign that’s already delivered two doses to over 40% of its citizens. Still, virus cases are on the rise and test positivity levels have stayed around 10% even after the government put nearly the entire population under its strictest quarantine phase.
Put together, some health experts are warning it’s too early to implement the mobility permit.
Elsewhere, Europe is slowly peeling back border restrictions set in place to stop the spread of Covid-19, providing an opening for sightseers and sun-seekers to finally make plans for a summer migration to Greece, Spain or Italy. The U.S. is also rolling back some rules for people with two doses.
Chile received another 2.2 million vaccine doses from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. on Sunday, marking one of the largest single shipments of shots to date, President Sebastian Pinera said shortly after the arrival. The government has secured a total of 40 million doses from multiple laboratories for its population of 18 million.
“The greater freedom granted through the mobility pass will be expanded in accordance with changes in sanitary conditions,” Pinera said. “We are also holding talks at the international level in order to advance, when conditions permit, toward a passport that allows for greater freedom and mobility for Chileans abroad.”
U.S. Eyeing Vaccine ‘Passports’ For Travel Abroad, Says DHS Head
The U.S. is taking a close look at vaccine “passports” for international travel, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday, opening the door to voluntary measures to prove vaccination status abroad.
Mayorkas, speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America” ahead of the U.S. Memorial Day holiday, was asked about creating the document for flights into and out of the U.S.
“We’re taking a very close look at that,” he said. “One of our principles that has guided us throughout the pandemic is the value of diversity, equity and inclusion, and making sure that any passport we provide for vaccinations is accessible to all and that no one is disenfranchised, and so we’re taking a very close look at that.
He Added: “There’s an underlying point here, of course, which is: Everyone should get vaccinated.”
Liza Acevedo, a spokesperson for the department, said later that Mayorkas was referring to work already underway to make sure “all U.S. travelers will be able to easily meet any anticipated foreign country entry requirements.”
There will be no federal vaccination database or a federal requirement for Americans to prove they’ve been vaccinated, Acevedo said.
The White House has regularly dismissed any suggestion that the government would create a federal document certifying vaccination status. “We are not instituting vaccine passports from a federal level,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday.
Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday the administration hasn’t changed its position but that “the U.S. government recognizes that other countries have or may have foreign entry requirements.”
“We will be monitoring these and helping all U.S. travelers meet those but we will not be – there will be no federal mandate requiring anyone to obtain a single vaccination credential,” she told reporters aboard Air Force One.
U.S. health officials have lifted virtually all restrictions, including most mask mandates, for vaccinated people. That move has left businesses, states and cities with a problem: There’s no way to verify who is vaccinated.
The European Union plans to open up quarantine-free travel for tourists vaccinated with EU-approved drugs, including those used in the U.S., but the U.S. has yet to reciprocate. Some EU countries have already loosened restrictions.
Covid-19 Vaccine Passport System Gets First Test In Europe
EU’s digital health certificate comes as airlines hope for summer travel recovery.
The European Union started rolling out a first-of-a-kind digital health certificate that permits people who have been vaccinated to travel freely within the bloc without the need to quarantine or test negative for Covid-19 upon arrival at their destination.
About 200 million certificates have been generated among a population of about 450 million. The documents contain data on whether a passenger has received a vaccination, or has had a recent negative Covid-19 test, or proof of antibodies. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has told governments they must grant quarantine-free entry to EU travelers carrying the documents.
European citizens and non-citizens legally living in the EU can access the document, which contains a scannable QR code, online. Depending on the national system in place, the document can be downloaded to a mobile app or printed. States are required to provide scanning devices to verify the documentation.
Airlines are hoping that the system will mark the beginning of a recovery in short-haul flying within Europe. A bounce in air travel has trailed recoveries seen in bigger domestic markets including in the U.S. and China.
“This is the bit we’ve been pushing for the last number of weeks,” Michael O’Leary, chief executive of discount carrier Ryanair Holdings PLC, Europe’s biggest airline. “There is an explosion of vaccination going on all over Europe.”
Still, the industry has raised concerns about the system’s implementation. As of earlier this week, only about 15 of the EU’s 27 member states had submitted plans to Brussels on how the system will be implemented at their borders.
Four industry groups representing airlines and airports in Europe have said the system lacks uniformity. Different countries are implementing separate processes for where the certificate can be accessed, where the document is checked and who is ultimately responsible for conducting the checks.
In a joint letter to EU leaders earlier this week, trade bodies identified 10 different variations outlined by governments as to how the checks will work on the ground. The lack of consistency risks long lines at airports and confusion for passengers, many of whom will be traveling for the first time since the start of the pandemic, they wrote.
Some member states have also indicated reluctance to reopen travel, with concerns that the more easily spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus could curtail the easing of national lockdowns.
Under the rules, members reserve the right to close their borders to any other state they consider to be of higher risk. Germany, for example, has already cautioned that it will restrict entry from states seeing a spike in cases.
In addition to the 27 EU members, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein have also signed up for the system. The European Commission is also encouraging states to apply use of the certificate nationally as a way to access public events, rather than limiting the use of the certificate for travel.
Covid Passports Plan For U.K. Nightclubs Triggers Business Alarm
Vaccine certificates are set to be required to enter nightclubs and other large, crowded venues in England, sparking warnings from hospitality businesses that the plan will put thousands of jobs at risk.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealed to millions of young people to come forward for their Covid shots, saying some of “life’s pleasures” will be “increasingly dependent on vaccination.”
The proposal marks a major shift from Johnson, a libertarian who has railed against state interference and been reluctant to endorse compulsory vaccine passes. But he argued that once all adults had been offered shots, formalizing Covid passports will be the responsible thing for some venues to do.
“We want people to be able to take back their freedoms as they can today,” Johnson said at a press conference coinciding with the lifting of most virus curbs in England and Scotland. “But to do that we must remain cautious and we must continue to get vaccinated.”
Nightclubs reopened for the first time in England after restrictions expired on Monday. On what British media have called “Freedom Day,” crowds packed into venues that have been shut since the U.K.’s first lockdown in March 2020.
While ending restrictions offers a potential boost for the economy, industry group UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said the new vaccine certificates policy would be “a hammer blow” for nightclub operators, putting jobs in danger.
“Covid passports will be a costly burden that run the risk of creating flash-points between staff and customers,” Nicholls said. “This new policy is devastating and risks hitting these fragile businesses and derailing their recovery and costing thousands of jobs.”
Johnson’s attempt to kickstart some sectors worst hit by the pandemic is already running into trouble. Daily case rates continue to rise, with the U.K. recording the highest increase in infections anywhere in the world over the weekend. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to avoid travel to the U.K. due to “very high” Covid rates.
Johnson’s own chief scientist warned deaths will exceed 100 per day when the current wave peaks.
Critical sectors including public transport have been hit by staff shortages as an estimated 1.7 million people are told to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19.
Johnson himself was forced to appear at the press conference via video link from isolation, after Health Secretary Sajid Javid contracted coronavirus.
Ministers moved to exempt critical workers in sectors such as health care, rail and aviation from the need to isolate as contacts of Covid cases.
Conservative member of Parliament Mark Harper criticized the announcement on vaccine identification in crowded venues.
He said the policy was “effectively moving to compulsory vaccination” and demanded to see the evidence ahead of a debate and vote in Parliament in September.
Harper’s Tory colleague, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt asked “why are we waiting” until September to introduce the Covid pass requirement, given how many more cases are likely to be caused by opening nightclubs now.
From Aug. 16, isolation rules for people who have received both their Covid vaccine shots will be lifted.
By the end of September, everyone aged 18 and over will have had the chance to receive both shots and to have had two weeks for immunity to take effect.
At that point, full vaccination is likely to become a condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather under the government’s plan. Proof of a negative Covid test will no longer be sufficient for a Covid pass.
The measure will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and there will be exemptions for people with genuine medical reasons for not being vaccinated. But if nightclubs and other venues do not voluntarily adopt Covid passes for customers, the government will be ready to change the law to force them to, Johnson said.
“We want nightclubs to behave responsibly, use the NHS Covid app,” Johnson said. “We reserve the right to go to mandation for that if we have to.”
Airline Lobby Urges Global Adoption of EU Vaccine Passports
The International Air Transport Association urged countries around the world to adopt the European Union’s Digital Covid Certificate as the global standard for vaccine certification.
The EU’s vaccine passport should serve as the blueprint for other nations, IATA Deputy Director General Conrad Clifford said in a statement Thursday.
While multiple certificates or digital applications testifying to the low-risk status of holders have been developed, there’s so far no global standard. IATA said the DCC is particularly effective because it’s available in paper and digital form, with a QR code that can be read in both, and features a gateway for the distribution of encrypted data that can extended to issuers from outside the EU.
IATA said up to 60 countries are looking to use the DCC specification for their own certification, in addition to the 27 EU members and states with reciprocal agreements, including Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine.
The passport also enables holders to access non-aviation sites in Europe that require proof of vaccination, such as museums, sporting events and concerts.
Italy Introduces Sweeping Covid Pass Mandate In EU First
Italy will require all workers to have a valid Covid passport, as the government led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi moves to set the toughest vaccination requirements in Europe.
A cabinet meeting Thursday approved the measure, which applies to all public and private-sector workers and will come into force Oct. 15. Workers faces fines of as much as 1,500 euros ($1,763) for noncompliance, while employers who fail to check their workers may have to pay as much as 1,000 euros.
The wider use of the passports — dubbed Green Passes — had met fierce opposition from right-wing parties including Matteo Salvini’s League, which backs Draghi’s government.
The government’s approval of a requirement to demonstrate vaccination, past Covid infection or a recent negative test before entering workplaces marks a victory for the premier, who’s signaled that he’s open to making inoculations mandatory if Italy’s vaccine drive falters.
The new Green Pass mandate will affect about 18 million workers in the country. Covid tests will be free for those who cannot be vaccinated and available at low cost for everyone else.
A number of other countries are also stepping up requirements as vaccination rates start to plateau. U.S. President Joe Biden has announced new mandates covering federal employees and contractors, health care workers and many employees at private companies.
Almost 75% of eligible people in Italy have already received two shots of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about 46% of those between 12 and 19 years of age, according to the Health Ministry.
Offsetting the new sweeping requirement, the government said it will review social distancing rules and limitations on attendance in cultural and sporting venues.
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