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Should we expect a new passport that includes our COVID-19 vaccination status?

It’s a whole new travel landscape out there, in which storing the documents you need on a mobile device is the smart way to go. How then should authorities proceed with health passport provisos?

Jab and away – A look at vaccination passports
The world is opening up for travel once again, and what a relief and a joy this is – especially for those of us who believe wholeheartedly in its importance for our wellbeing. The many benefits include; improved happiness as a result of getting away from the “daily grind”; opportunity to switch off those mobile devices and recharge our own flagging “batteries”; exposure to new cultures while boosting our creativity in art, photography, and journaling. Reducing our stress levels in this way also bodes well for our overall health, especially if we go on active holidays – hiking, enjoying the beach and surf, taking part in races, and so many other active options. Once your leave is approved by your boss, what’s stopping you?

It could be you have a level of concern about exactly what may be required, now, from a vaccination or COVID-19 status point of view. But, fortunately, this is easily remedied by checking with the airline on which you are flying as to exactly which Express Test results you may need to have handy in order to be allowed onto the plane – simple as that.
Giving it stick: Health passport attitudes
For all countries not on the red list, COVID-19 vaccinations are becoming health passports to allow vaccinated tourists (with recent negative PCR tests) to resume much needed tourism spending on their shores. Also for travelers wanting to resume uptake of their travel bucket lists, health passports can make this possible. According to the BBC, an increasing number of countries “are considering turning to COVID-19 passports as a way of opening up and letting people travel”, a recent news article reveals. “These passports are usually accessed via an app on your phone or, in some cases, paper versions are made available.”

Photo by Lukas on Unsplash

A recent paper for The Lancet revealed, “The potential impact of vaccine passports on inclination to accept COVID-19 vaccination in the United Kingdom: evidence from a large cross-sectional survey and modelling study”, and found, in the section on “Attitudes to vaccinations, passports, and societal freedoms”,  that the majority of the UK public surveyed believe that vaccination certificates or passports “are a good idea” (an average of 58.4 percent) – and more respondents believe these passports “do not infringe on personal liberties” (average of 41.1 percent) versus those who do (35.5 percent). More respondents than not also stated that they do not wish to be free to “reject vaccination without consequences on their ability to attend public or social events” (an average of 39.3 percent versus 33.2 percent). A small, but not insignificant, majority of those surveyed also think  “individuals who reject a vaccine should not be able to attend social events” (50.8 percent).

On the matter of travel, a large minority of respondents said that “vaccination passports for domestic use (46.5 percent) or international travel (42 percent) would make them no more or less inclined to accept a COVID-19 vaccine”. A sizeable minority stated that they “would definitely accept a COVID-19 vaccine and that vaccine passports would make them more inclined to vaccinate (48.8 percent for domestic use and 42.9 percent for international travel), versus the 2.56 percent who took the other side (i.e., they would “definitely not accept a COVID-19 vaccine and that vaccine passports for domestic use and international travel would make them less inclined to vaccinate”).
Such research is important to show public opinion across the board – and it is heartwarming that, in general, most people feel confident and excited to travel again, using the digital health passports that are now readily available to them.
Choices, Choices: The appropriate test
Your local testing center will probably be offering a variety of different COVID-19 testing options, depending on whether you are: departing from the UK; arriving back into the UK; not traveling but in need of a test; or returning and wish to test (for your own sanity) before you fly. Prices range from around £35 to £99 (US$48 to US$136) per test, and the procedure usually involves: booking your slot online at your preferred testing center and paying online. You will receive a QR code via confirmation email, that you must bring along with you, on a mobile device, when you attend your appointment, and you must also show a form of photo identification on the day. 

Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash 

Additionally, most testing centers advise that you do not eat or drink for 30 minutes before your swab (which is done to the back of the throat and nasal passages) to reduce the risk of it being tainted and, therefore, inaccurate. It can also help to know when your results will be made available to you. Within the UK, this is generally: by 10 pm the day after your test (PCR Tests); within three hours of your sample being taken (3 Hour PCR Tests); two hours after testing (LAMP Tests); within 40 minutes of your sample being taken (Anti Lateral Flow Tests); delivered 24 hours after the sample arrives at their office (Home Tests); or within an hour, provided all information is uploaded correctly and in a readable format (Remote Lateral Flow).

Streamlined Approach: Merging our health and covid passports
The next question before the figurative “house”, of course, is whether our health and travel passports should be merged. In simple terms, should our health status (vaccinated, PCR negative at the current time, and so on) be included in the passport we show at Immigration? While many folks argue that this would be the most streamlined way to proceed, most countries (or regions) currently have their own form of COVID-19 health passport. Another hitch is that health passports tend to be made available in digital form so that they are easily accessible on mobile phones and other devices, or via a health passport app. Of course, the “vaccination status” stamp could easily be incorporated into a normal passport before each instance of travel – but maybe things should happen the other way around. Anyone for a country passport on your mobile device? Now there’s a question which is certainly up for a lively debate!

Main photo by Xavi Cabrera on Unsplash