Vaccine passports explained: what you need to know about the IATA travel pass


Boarding pass, suitcase, passport and … digital vaccination certificate?

Anxious to avoid losing another summer of vacation income due to the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union, some Asian governments and the airline industry are scrambling to develop what are known as Covid vaccine passports. 19 to help start international travel.

They are working on systems that would allow travelers to use mobile phone apps to prove they’ve been vaccinated, which could help them avoid onerous quarantine requirements at their destinations.

But the multiple efforts underscore the absence of a central international system to electronically verify immunization status. Projects also face technical challenges in working together, while questions about vaccine privacy and inequality persist.

Vaccination passports would add another digital layer to the multitude of existing coronavirus health and contact tracing applications that many countries and states in the United States have deployed. Their use at the national level to reopen local economies has been hotly debated, with many opposing their requirement for pubs, concerts and sporting events. However, there is more momentum to use them for international travel, especially as countries like Iceland open their borders to vaccinated visitors and others like Saudi Arabia begin to allow vaccinated citizens to travel. travel abroad. The EU’s decision last week to open its borders to fully vaccinated travelers adds even more urgency.

Here is an overview of how vaccine passports work:

Official efforts

The first part of a vaccination passport is the user’s official or approved electronic vaccination record.

The European Union, China and Japan are all working on their own digital vaccination certificates for cross-border travel. The UK, meanwhile, updated its National Health Service app last week to allow fully vaccinated users to prove their status when traveling abroad, coinciding with a relaxation of travel rules. .

Testing is underway for the EU digital certificate, which will also confirm COVID-19 test results or virus recovery and is expected to go live by the end of June, allowing residents to reunite with friends and parents living in 30 European countries. It is still unclear where and how exactly travelers in the EU, which does not have internal border control points, will have their certificates checked. Officials in Brussels say it will depend on each country. The idea is for travelers to flash a QR code on their phone so that it can be scanned, for example, at an airport or train station, using an official verification app that checks against databases. national, via a technical EU “gateway”.

National vaccination applications or
National vaccination applications or “passports” are being tested: NHS test and traceability application. Photo / AP

The World Health Organization does not recommend proof of vaccination as a requirement for international travel, citing uneven distribution of vaccines, although it consults on interim guidelines for developing a “smart vaccination certificate” .

Travel apps

Travelers also need a smartphone app to take any official vaccination certificates with them.

The EU project includes open source technology that European countries can use to create their own official mobile wallets.

The International Air Transport Association, an airline industry group, has its IATA Travel Pass smartphone, which airlines like Air New Zealand Qantas, Japan Airlines, Emirates, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have tested. A rival effort, CommonPass, has gained ground with carriers like Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, United, and Lufthansa.

Travelers can already use the apps to verify that their COVID-19 test results are accepted at their destination. The Travel Pass and CommonPass are so far only available to travelers of the airlines that use them. Both can also be integrated into air travel apps so users can check their immunization status when checking in online. Both should also work with EU certificates. CommonPass says users will be able to import vaccine credentials by mid-June.

Amid a travel prospect clouded by the pandemic, vaccine passports will only become mainstream, said Paul Meyer, CEO of The Commons Project, the nonprofit behind CommonPass. “Our expectation is that this will remain a requirement for international travel.”

What travelers want

Business travelers like UK public relations director Richard Fogg welcome vaccine passports. Fogg’s company reduced its plans to attend a major telecommunications fair in Barcelona next month, given the quarantine rules for people returning to the UK.

“These 10 days of quarantine will have negative business implications – there is no way around that,” Fogg said, while acknowledging the trade-offs, including concerns over data privacy.

Eymeric Segard, CEO of Lunajets, a Geneva-based private jet broker, noted that travelers already hand over passports with personal data upon arrival.

“Personally, you know, I would be happy to tell anyone, yes I’m vaccinated or not I’m not vaccinated,” he said, adding that vaccine passports would help avoid the “logistical nightmare. “multiple European Covid-19 tests faced when visiting other EU countries.

What about counterfeits?

Fake COVID-19 documents sold by fraudsters have been a problem during the pandemic, but developers say digital versions have guarantees that make them difficult to forge.

IATA says it does not verify test results or vaccination status, but serves as a channel for registered labs to securely send this information to travelers whose identity may match that of the person who passed. testing or vaccination. The app scans a traveller’s face using the phone’s camera and matches it with the biometric details of the passport, and there are checks to prevent someone else from using their identity.

Security and confidentiality

Vaccination passports are a polarizing topic, with discussions online highlighting unfounded fears that they are being used to control people, restrict freedom and erode privacy. The developers stress that a minimum of personal data is kept on the phones and that the only thing that is transmitted are encryption keys allowing information to be exchanged securely.

“If done correctly, it doesn’t bring an additional level of privacy risk, because you’re just putting a yes or no identifying status,” said Kevin Trilli, chief product officer of the company. identity verification Onfido, which works on vaccination. card technology.

There is also the question of how well the different vaccine identification systems will work together and whether countries will recognize each other’s certificates. The UK government has warned that few countries currently accept proof of travelers’ vaccinations.

“You can’t have a zero-day interoperable system,” but over time the issues will be resolved, which will help lay the groundwork for the next pandemic, Trilli said.

What about people who don’t have smartphones? Or families who don’t have a device for each member? IATA and EU officials say they are working on solutions, including options on paper.

– Associated Press

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