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What are vaccine passports?

Little paper card you got with your Covid shot could be your passport back to normal life

Nathan Place
New York
Tuesday 06 April 2021 15:58 BST
Experts say to hold onto those paper cards that come with Covid vaccinations
Experts say to hold onto those paper cards that come with Covid vaccinations (AFP via Getty Images)

In the United States, a Covid-19 shot typically comes with a little paper card showing proof of vaccination. Selfies with the cards have lit up social media – but experts say they’re worth much more than a few likes. They could be passports back into normal life.

“Whether it’s school, entertainment venues or travel, there’s going to be an expectation that to resume these activities you have to be retested and enter quarantine or produce proof of immunisation,” Dr John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told ABC News.

In other words, people trying to do the kind of things they did before the pandemic – like fly on a plane or see a movie in a cinema – may soon be required to prove they’ve been vaccinated. That’s where a “vaccine passport” would come in – and so far, the closest thing Americans have to that passport is those little paper cards.

Typically, a vaccination card shows a few key pieces of information: the brand of your vaccine, where you got it, and the date (or dates) of your vaccination.

If you lose it, don’t panic – whatever hospital or clinic gave you your shot will probably have a record of your vaccination. Patients who lost their cards can either go back to wherever they got the shot, or call their state’s department of health.

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Beyond that, the use of vaccine passports is still being formulated.

“Nothing has been put into place yet,” Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases expert at Johns Hopkins University, told ABC News.

However, individual states have already suggested they will oppose any mandate for vaccine passports, with Texas governor Greg Abbott signing an executive order that blocks vaccine passports being required by state government institutions.

“Government should not require any Texan to show proof of vaccination and reveal private health information just to go about their daily lives. That is why I have issued an Executive Order that prohibits government-mandated vaccine passports in Texas. We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health - and we will do so without treading on Texans’ personal freedoms,” he said.

In the near future, such passports could be digital. Amid the flurry of executive orders President Biden signed in January, one called for government officials to “assess the feasibility of linking Covid-19 vaccination to International Certificates of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) and producing electronic versions of ICVPs” – all your Covid-related health records, together in one digital document.

Airlines are working on something similar. The International Air Transport Association has developed the “IATA Travel Pass,” a smartphone app that compiles a traveller’s vaccination status and Covid test results into easily scanned QR codes. The airlines Emirates and Etihad Airways have already said they will use the app, and American Airlines accepts a similar app called “VeriFLY.”

For daily life in America, however, the only vaccine passports are strictly analogue – so experts urge people to take good care of those cards.

“A vaccination card is a tool that people can use to declare that they have some level of protection against Covid,” Dr Brownstein said. “Being able to assess immunity to Covid is a critical part of trying to resume our daily lives.”

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