As countries are trying — mostly struggling — to make their own adjustments to what has long been dubbed “the new normal”, efforts are being made to find ways to get back to a more realistic level of normalcy. For countries like Israel, one of the most promising — if not controversial — ideas is to issue a “green pass”. But what is a vaccine passport and what does it mean for you?
What Is a Green Pass or a Vaccine Passport and Will You Need One to Travel?
A green pass is a permit that allows those who have contracted the coronavirus but have since recovered from it, and those who have been vaccinated, to enter certain facilities and places, as well as participate in some activities not normally accessed by the public during the pandemic. If you’re a green pass holder in Israel, you are allowed to use swimming pools, gyms, and studios, as well as check yourself in at domestic hotels, dine at restaurants and pubs, and participate in cultural events, among others.
For many Israelis, particularly those in government, the green pass makes it possible to look at the virus as nothing more than a secondary thought. The Israeli green pass is valid for six months after issuance.
In the international community, this is the same idea as the vaccine passport, and Israel seems to be leading the way in “testing” the idea on the ground. Various organizations, airlines, and travel industry trade groups are also developing their own version of the vaccine passport that will make it possible to navigate the ever-changing rules, especially those governing international travel.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), an airline trade group, is putting its money on an app named Travel Pass, which should be available for use by any airline. Others are also developing their own version of the vaccine passport, including the World Economic Forum (a Swiss NGO) and The Commons Project Foundation (a nonprofit developer of technology intended for use by the public), which are working together on CommonPass. The biometric identity verification service provider Clear has its own app called Health Pass.
Israel’s green pass can be used via an app but it is also printable, for those who would rather carry a paper version.
As for the question of whether you need a vaccine passport or a green pass to travel, the World Health Organization says no. WHO does not support mandatory vaccination protocols for international travel. The reason behind this is that the efficacy of the currently available vaccines for COVID-19 has yet to be clearly proven. That and because not everyone has ready access to vaccines.
However, WHO is also working on a framework for a digital vaccination certificate. In the long term, this certificate should help ensure wide acceptance of any app as proof that you meet the health requirements that will enable you to travel.
Can Vaccine Passports Save the Tourism Industry?
Whether the issuance of vaccine passports can save the travel industry remains to be seen. Starting in late March 2021, Japan decided to begin the Olympic torch relay in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, which were scheduled for 2020 but have since been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Up to 20 athletes have withdrawn from the relay, and there is no assurance that people will still flock to the Olympics the way they used to in pre-pandemic times, which made the Olympics a bastion of tourism strength.
With the digital vaccination certificate yet to be introduced by the World Health Organization, there is no assurance, either, that people are safe when they travel. The international community is divided between those who support the issuance of vaccine passports and those who see it as a new problem.
While the intention of a vaccine passport is good — as authorities and other concerned parties can supposedly identify those who have received their jab — it can also marginalize people in poorer and smaller countries where vaccines are viewed as a luxury, reserved for those who are rich or in power.
Is it still a question of whether to get vaccinated or not?
Vaccines are created to help people develop immunity to certain diseases. “Anti-vaxxers”, or those who oppose the use of vaccines, have received plenty of publicity even before COVID-19. However, with the surge of infections in different countries across the globe, governments are focused on achieving herd immunity. There are only two ways to achieve herd immunity: mass infection and mass vaccination.
What the vaccine means for you is simply a matter of perspective: would you rather risk contracting the coronavirus, or would you rather have at least a fighting chance of immunity via vaccination?
If travel is your concern, it’s a good idea to stay abreast of the developments in your home country and travel restrictions in the country you would like to visit. Many countries have already issued travel bans to prevent the people from high risk countries from setting foot on their shores. Meanwhile, WHO encourages staying at home, but it has not issued a blanket ban on traveling from one country to another.