You May Soon Need a COVID Vaccine to Do This One Thing, Officials Say

The idea of requiring proof of immunization for this activity is being considered by government agencies.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected many activities we may have previously taken for granted, upending everything from dining out to getting a haircut. But as vaccines roll out and cases begin to decline nationwide for the first time in months, we're starting to look toward a return to some sense of normalcy. However, the present state and the future of how one activity will look in the coming months remains relatively uncertain—travel. Now, amid growing precautionary measures and restrictions, government officials say President Joe Biden is considering requiring proof of having received a COVID vaccine to be able to travel. Read on to see what the new rules could look like, and for more on what you can expect with your shot, check out Dr. Fauci Says He Had These Side Effects From His Second Vaccine Dose.

Government agencies are assessing "vaccine passports" for citizens.

woman holding us passport

Some of the early executive orders signed by President Biden focused on responses to the pandemic, including instituting a mask mandate on federal property and another for travelers on planes, buses, trains, public transit, and those commuting through transit hubs. This includes an order that tasked government agencies to "assess the feasibility" of building a digital "vaccine passport" for those who have been immunized, hopefully simplifying the documentation process, The New York Times reports.

"It's about trying to digitize a process that happens now and make it into something that allows for more harmony and ease, making it easier for people to travel between countries without having to pull out different papers for different countries," Nick Careen, senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo and security at the International Air Transport Association [IATA] and leader of the organization's travel pass initiative, told The Times.

Vaccination documents could be part of the evolution of current restrictions.

Portrait of a male traveler wearing a face mask at the airport with the flight schedule at the background while looking at his boarding pass - travel concepts

While most travel remains unsafe during the pandemic, experts point out that the recent addition of a requirement to test negative for COVID before entering the United States by airplane—as well as recent travel bans set in place to stem the flow of visitors from countries hit hard by highly contagious variants—are the beginning phases of safely taking back to the skies. As vaccines become more readily available and are administered to more of the population, "vaccine passports" could help travelers safely bypass some of the restrictions that are currently in place.

"One key element vital for the restart of tourism is consistency and harmonization of rules and protocols regarding international travel," Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, told The Times in an email. "Evidence of vaccination, for example, through the coordinated introduction of what may be called 'health passports' can offer this. They can also eliminate the need for quarantine on arrival, a policy which is also standing in the way of the return of international tourism." And for more on where you could get immunized near where you live, check out If You Live in These States, You Can Get Vaccinated at Walgreens Next Week.

Proof of vaccination is far from a new safety measure.

Vaccine record

Even though the idea of requiring proof of vaccination may seem concerning or dire to some, it's far from a ground-breaking concept—even outside of traveling. "Everybody who has traveled internationally to countries that require vaccination against malaria, diphtheria, and other things has had yellow cards," Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Linux Foundation Public Health, an organization that uses technology to assist public health authorities in combating COVID-19 globally, told The Times. "Parents with kids in public school have had to prove their kids have been vaccinated. This is not something new." And for more on where vaccines may be mandatory, find out why Dr. Fauci Said the COVID Vaccine Could Be Mandatory in These Places.

Technically, digital vaccine passports will be very difficult to put into place.

anti-virus security password for computer

Establishing the new system will require engineers to tackle a gargantuan set of obstacles to provide the heightened security required for such tools.

"The global passport system took 50 years to develop," Drummond Reed, chief trust officer for Evernym, a developer that has been working with IATA on vaccine pass development, told The Times. "Even when they wanted to add biometrics to that to make it stronger, that took over a decade to agree on just how you're going to add a fingerprint or a facial biometric to be verified on a passport. Now, in a very short period of time, we need to produce a digital credential that can be as universally recognized as a passport and it needs an even greater level of privacy because it's going to be digital." And for more on how to prepare for your shots, check out If You Take These OTC Meds, You Have to Stop Before Getting the Vaccine.

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Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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