a phone and a passport on a laptop

Vaccination passports; to be, or not to be? Digital health apps – to be.

Digital health and verification apps and vaccination passports are all the travel headlines these days, and unintentionally. they’ve already made things worse. As if restrictions could be any more complicated, the questions of which app? Does that mean I need to be vaccinated? and a variety of other questions clutter any potential travel decisions.

Many simply give up, waiting for simpler times ahead. But it may be a while, and it’s good to know what digital health verification apps and vaccination passports mean for the present and future of travel.

Vaccination Passports, Or Digital Health Apps?

First, vaccination passports and digital health and document verification apps are two different things, and neither necessarily means you’ll need to be vaccinated, though if you can be, it should certainly help in travel for the next year.

The main reason these hot button issues are in discussion is simple: fraud.

People want to travel, but society has devolved to a place where someone would rather forge a testing certificate than go to the minimal effort required to get tested and actually do their part. Testing solutions are getting better daily, and many don’t even involve leaving your house to get a result.

To curb rampant fraud, the idea governments and travel industry providers have is to cut out the middle man – aka you. Instead, they’d like trusted testing labs and covid-19 vaccination centers to upload the results of any tests or shots directly, so that you can’t fudge with them.

You’ve inevitably seen a friend post a picture on Instagram of their CDC vaccination card, which is nothing more than a crude piece of paper I could sadly, easily print out at home. As long as that’s true, countries won’t be quick to open up borders.

And remember, with the exception of Qantas, it’s not the airline creating vaccination policies, but the countries you’re attempting to exit, transit or enter. They set the rules as to which test, or proof of vaccination is required. Airlines just need to make sure you’ve followed the rules, or they could be fined significant sums for putting you on the plane.

a person holding a phone

What Vaccination Passports Are

Vaccination passports could be many things, or they may not end up being anything at all, in many countries. Israel has already given vaccinated citizens new green passports which prove vaccination status. Others say they likely won’t ever bother.

Just like some countries previously required proof of the yellow fever vaccination, or Hepatitis, some now want to demand proof of covid-19 vaccination if you’d like to travel. If you’re trying to see if the country you’d like to enter does; or doesn’t, IATA’s online travel tool is the most official resource on current entry restriction by country.

A vaccination passport, if ever created in your country, could be a digital or more secure physical symbol of your vaccination status, and ideally something that’s easy to verify with officials, or nearly impossible to forge. Blockchain has been tipped as a secure and confidential way to allow travelers control over who sees their info and when.

The EU, UK and others are currently contemplating the best format for vaccination passports, and it’s expected that any tokens of proof, if any, would in the future be based off secured databases for those who’ve definitely been vaccinated.

For now, vaccination passports are more of a concept than a reality, so don’t stress about not having one. Instead, spend time thinking about getting the vaccine, because that will be the basis for any future proof, if that day comes.

What Digital Health Verification Apps Are

In the nearer term, and right now, airlines are trying to minimize testing fraud, which is all too easy. To do this, airline lobbying body IATA, and a variety of other apps from the likes of CommonPass, VeriFLY and others are attempting to secure results digitally.

So far, this has all been done on a voluntary trial basis, but it’s possible that by summer many airlines will insist that customers use their chosen travel document verification app, such as the IATA Travel Pass. Here’s how that works…

  1. You learn of any entry requirements for your upcoming trip, such as testing or quarantine via the app, or airline website.
  2. A list of accepted covid-19 testing providers is given to you, the passenger, and you take your covid-19 test in a timely fashion for the requirements of the trip.
  3. The lab can then upload the result directly to the airline, or to the app, making it easy for the airline and you to verify that things are legit.

Aside from combating fraud, this concept also helps to streamline accurate information. A Google search can lead to many of the greatest things in life, but it can also lead to outdated information.

Oh, and airlines have promised not to profit from your health data, and these digital solutions aim to simply share your validation status and no actual data is stored.

Using these tools, or airline apps directly, customers can have greater peace of mind that what they’re reading is accurate up to the minute, since things are changing often at the moment. British Airways is one such airline trialling a feature where customers can upload all their documents before arrival to the airport, to streamline the checkin and validation process.

a white building with a blue dome and a blue roof

How Apps And Passports Will Impact Summer Travel

If you’re planning to cross a border this summer, there’s an overwhelming likelihood you’ll need a covid-19 test at some juncture. Expect to either upload your documents to the airline, or use a digital health verification app to secure your results to do so.

Don’t, however, expect to need proof of vaccination. That will be case by case. Greece, along with a growing list has already stated that all with proof of vaccination or just a negative test will be welcomed. Some countries, like Iceland, or Thailand may require vaccination, but that number seems to be a minority, rather than a majority.

As someone who’s traveled a handful of times during covid-19 whenever it was ok to do so, I can tell you that manually showing a check in agent, or border official is a slow and tedious process, and having everything all neatly arranged in a verified and trusted app can only be an improvement.

If that’s got your mind thinking of all the potential fails, like dead phone battery, etc, don’t fret. There are trials of every solution going on right now with global airlines just about everywhere planes fly, and all the kinks should be ironed out before mass travel is back. Until then, enjoy the planning!

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I have recovered from Covid 19. In the Senate hearing this month Dr. Fauci admitted that out of 30 million people who were infected and have recovered, only 5 have been reinfected. Will I be able to get a Travel Passport without getting vaccinated?

    1. The case has definitely been made that once a significant percentage are vaccinated, there should be less concern about those who choose not to, or have recovered, but it’s unclear. Every political indication in the US seems to state government won’t require vaccination, but that businesses may reserve the right not to deal with unvaccinated, so it’s a space to watch. That’s all I know for now!

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