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March 05, 2021

'Vaccine passports' could be the future of post-pandemic travel

Several international organizations are developing digital health apps that allow airlines to check passengers' vaccination statuses

Travel COVID-19
COVID-19 Vaccine Passports Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Post-pandemic traveling may require passengers to utilize 'vaccine passports' to get clearance to board a flight.

Airlines are anticipating heavier travel as COVID-19 vaccination rates rise and social restrictions ease in many locations. 

Several airlines have resumed non-stop flights from Philadelphia to popular vacation destinations. By the end of this year, the International Air Transport Association estimates that travel could reach around 50% of 2019's numbers. 

But post-pandemic travel eventually could include digital health passes that indicate a traveler's COVID-19 vaccination status — a precaution to keep passengers safe, CNBC reported.

The International Air Transport Association launched a digital travel pass last week that is being tested by 30 carriers in March and April. The so-called "vaccine passports" would allow governments and airlines to share encrypted information detailing a passenger's vaccination status and latest COVID-19 test result. 

The International Chamber of Commerce and the World Economic Forum have created similar apps. Some countries, like Denmark and Sweden, are developing their own health passports too. 

Travelers previously have had to show proof of vaccination against various diseases when entering certain countries. But there's never been a push to digitize that process. 

These "vaccine passports" would be stored on a person's phone or digital wallet. The data would be accessible via a QR code scanned before boarding. The idea is to prevent lengthy waits caused by people presenting paper documentation.

Ticketmaster has proposed a similar system for attending its future concerts. Its app would rely on third-party companies to relay a negative test result or proof of vaccination for concert-goers. 

The World Health Organization has opposed requiring travelers to show proof of vaccination until more data on the vaccines is available. 

"This is because the efficacy of vaccines in preventing transmission is not yet clear, and global vaccine supply is limited," a WHO spokesperson told CNBC.

The United States currently requires anyone entering the country to provide a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery from the coronavirus before boarding their flight. Several other countries require negative test results, too. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also requires travelers to wear masks on planes, buses and trains. 

Before traveling, people are advised to check the CDC's travel recommendations and follow its COVID-19 mitigation efforts, regardless of vaccination status.

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