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If you’ve been on the news of travel during the pandemic, you’ve probably heard the term “vaccine passport” more than once. After all, these digital health passports are likely to be a crucial part of the travel industry as it rebounds.
Currently, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides a physical vaccination card that tells you the main facts about your inoculation, including when you received the vaccine and the type that you received.
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But the industry is looking for ways to convert that information into a digital health passport that you could display on your phone. In addition to details on the COVID-19 vaccine, a vaccine passport could also track and organize other health information, such as recent results of coronavirus tests and other inoculations needed to travel, such as the vaccine against yellow fever.
There are several vaccine passports in development or already available for travel, but perhaps the best-known application comes from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association of airlines around the world. He has developed a Travel Pass app that can host both verified COVID-19 test results and vaccine information.
IATA is a partner of dozens of airlines, including ANA, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic. The IATA Travel Pass app is available for download from the Apple Store, but IATA says travelers won’t be able to use it unless their airline is part of a trial. In addition to its partnerships with airlines, the company is also working to verify COVID-19 vaccination information with certain countries. IATA recently announced that the EU’s COVID certificate – the European vaccine passport – can be used with its Travel Pass app.
Many people have questions about vaccine passports and their role in travel. To learn more about what digital health passports could look like, TPG spoke to Nick Careen, senior vice president of IATA, earlier this year.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What is the IATA Travel Pass and how does it work?
Fairing: The Travel Pass is designed to digitize [paper COVID-19 results], so instead of having to show up at the airport with your sheet of paper and stand in line and wait for someone to validate it – then subsequently go through a check-in process and then on board from an airplane – we suggest that you would be able to do this electronically. It is about digitizing an existing manual process as it exists today.
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Can the application be standardized?
Fairing: There is no standard in place in terms of what the key elements of a certificate or even the scanning of a certificate would look like … from country to country, and no one follows any level of consistency.
(Editor’s note: This interview was conducted in March 2021. To date, there is still no standardized vaccination passport for use in the world. However, some vaccine credentials, such as the EU COVID certificate, are recognized by the IATA Travel Pass.. )
What if you have already been vaccinated?
Fairing: We will need to put in place processes that would allow consumers to download their current immunization status. This can take many forms which could be a [optical character recognition that] formats images or PDF files. These types of things will need to be incorporated into the app to [accommodate] those who have been vaccinated before the publication of a standard.
How will the app eliminate false COVID-19 results or vaccine certificates?
Fairing: Given the variants [of COVID-19 test results and vaccine certificates] there and the way he’s treated [using] a piece of paper is difficult. It is very difficult to ask any normal check-in agent in an air environment to validate what is real and what is not. We just don’t have this ability and we do our best to train them as much as possible. [about] things to look for, but it comes with risks.
There must be a certified list of registered laboratories to issue this [testing] certificate. This [certificate] should be compared to your digital identity and the application that makes it infallible. [Your results] would reside on your app as a verifiable identifier, which would eliminate issues with fraudulent testing. Subsequently, when we get to the vaccination component, it would work the same way.
How will travelers add information to the app?
Fairing: In this case, we think you would take a photo or scan of that particular credential, which in this case would be a CDC vaccination card with your name on it. We would need to verify this against your digital ID that was created in the app to make sure the content is correct as we don’t want to have a situation where we have created a case where someone has a fake map that is downloaded.
There needs to be some background verification that we would ask about your name and location to make sure the certificate was valid. But again, we don’t set those standards – the government does.
Photo presented by Justin Tallis / AFP via Getty Images.
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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are solely those of the author, and not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain, and are not ‘have not been reviewed, approved or approved by any of these entities.