We travelers will have our hands full when it comes to what some are calling immunity passports in the age of COVID-19 vaccination period and beyond
This could be an exciting year for travel as according to the latest International Air Transport Association (IATA) reports, H2 of 2021 is expected to see improvements after a difficult H1 of next year.
Aggressive cost-cutting is expected to combine with increased travel demands due to the re-opening of borders with testing and/or widespread availability of a vaccine, to see the industry turn cash-positive in the fourth quarter of 2021.
Cutting-edge technologies will see increased use in the aviation industry, including 5G, cybersecurity, 3D printing, artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain and according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, blockchain alone could increase aviation industry revenue by $40 billion.
All fine and dandy, but we travelers will have our hands full when it comes to what some are calling immunity passports in the age of COVID-19 vaccination period and beyond.
The novel coronavirus has infected more than 72.9 million people, including over 16.5 million in the U.S., since it was first reported in Wuhan, China.
More than 1.6 million people have died worldwide and over 41.3 million have recovered as of Tuesday, according to John Hopkins University.
Following the availability of a vaccine, health passports will become the norm, writes IATA’s Regional Vice President in Africa and the Middle East, Muhammad Ali Albakri on LinkedIn:
“A digital ‘health passport’ will help travelers store and manage their verified certifications for COVID-19 tests or COVID-19 vaccines. This will be important for governments that are likely to require either verified testing or vaccination proof as a condition of international travel during and after the pandemic.”
2021 and beyond may never bring us to the times when you glided through airports or ate wherever you wanted.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses of the shot and will come with a COVID-19 vaccination card after your first injection is administered. But is that the same as an immunity passport to return to normal activities?
A vaccine passport could take the form of a physical card, a mobile app, a QR code or a sticker on a passport.
A COVID-19 vaccination card won't be the same as an immunity passport. Instead, it'll serve as a reminder to get your second shot of the vaccine. It also details which vaccine you received -- but that's all.
Now, immunity passports have been used in other countries for different diseases, like polio, to give international travelers the OK to travel. The immunity passports would certify that an individual is immune to the coronavirus and can then give people more freedom to travel and socialize in public.
Here are the 5 problems with health passports
Firstly, the healthiest people, i.e. those most likely to travel, will be vaccinated last or mid to end 2021. In a partially vaccinated world, passengers will still need to wear masks and get tested before, during, and after their journey.
"For the next two to four years, different people will have different vaccines but not everyone will have a vaccine. What that means is everyone on the flight still has to be tested," says Shashank Nigam, CEO of Simpliflying, a leading aviation marketing consulting firm.
Secondly, there are no uniform requirements across the world, which means getting vaccinated in one country might not guarantee entry into another.
The U.S. and some western countries have approved Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine and Moderna's but China and Russia have developed their own vaccines, and some Middle Eastern countries have already approved a vaccine by Sinopharm, a Chinese-state owned pharmaceutical company.
A total of 61 COVID-19 vaccines are in clinical trials around the world, according to the New York Times' vaccine tracker.
Thirdly is ensuring widespread availability of the vaccine.
You can’t show proof of inoculation against COVID-19 when the vaccine is not yet available.
It will take months for the vaccine to become available to the general public and when it does become available, you have a period of a second inoculation that will make the vaccination complete. That period could be 3-4 weeks, during which health passports will create massive confusion.
Fourthly, after that initial surge of vaccinations, we could see a second “phase” in vaccine rollout for those who refuse to take the vaccine.
Carmel Shachar, executive director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School said the focus will turn from vaccinating people clamoring for it toward those who may have reservations to taking it. “That’s when you’re going to see states perhaps mandating the vaccine, school systems mandating vaccines, or employers like hospitals.”
And lastly, getting vaccinated doesn’t mean you are home free or immune to COVID-19 or other variants of it, like what we are seeing in the UK, causing global airports to shut down traffic from that area.
Back in April, the WHO published guidance regarding immunity passports, noting: "Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an 'immunity passport' or 'risk-free certificate' that would enable individuals to travel assuming that they are protected against re-infection.
"There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection," the WHO warned.
Ok, so what’s a CommonPass?
Some airlines and airports are starting to roll out CommonPass, a global platform created by the World Economic Forum and Swiss-based non-profit The Commons Project.
CommonPass allows people to digitally document their COVID-19 status through test results and eventually, vaccinations while protecting their health data privacy.
The system taps its CommonTrust Network of public and private partners to assesses whether the information comes from a certified lab or medical system and then whether it satisfies the health screening requirements of the country they want to enter.
Validation is provided through a simple digital code but the underlying health information stays private.
The CommonPass was recently tried on flights of United Airlines & Cathay Pacific, and since, 4 more companies (JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, and Virgin Atlantic) have decided to use it.
In the future, the Commons Project aspires to extend the use of the CommonPass to venues, stadiums, public transport, and even schools, while there is also a strong possibility that it may be applied to other industries such as hospitality and entertainment.
If the CommonPass is established as a global vaccine passport, millions of people from different countries will be forced to give their personal health and travel information to a private entity in order to have the ability to travel.
Back in late November, IATA announced it is at the final development stage of the IATA Travel Pass, a mobile app "allowing travelers to store and manage certifications for COVID-19 tests or vaccines that can be used by governments requiring testing or vaccination proofs as a condition of international travel during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.