Stephen Bailey
Will vaccine passports really be a thing?
Will vaccine passports really be a thing?
Stephen Bailey

Vaccine passports are a controversial topic.

They’ve been talked about in the popular press pretty much for as long as COVID has been around.

And there’s generally been two sides to the argument.

One side says that vaccine passports will increase inequality — they will create more of a society of the haves and the have-nots — and that even to implement them would be discriminatory.

The other side says that without vaccine passports, no place should be allowed to open. That you should only be allowed into a country if you’ve got your vaccine passport, that we can’t have people travelling or going to events if they haven’t been vaccinated.

I think I fall more in the former camp.

I think vaccine passports, as an idea, do increase inequality. I don’t want our world to come to a point where without a piece of paper, nothing is available to you.

And I don’t want it to then create a situation that advantages whoever will pay the most to get a vaccine, whether that’s individual or — as we’ve seen at the moment — on a country-by-country basis.

However, I do have some sympathy for people who feel that vaccines and vaccine passports are essential for events and travel to restart.

The evidence is only preliminary, but it shows that vaccinated people don’t carry much of a risk. They may still pass on COVID, but it’s unlikely they do.

But my main point of discussion today is the practicalities of a vaccine passport.

What I don’t think we should do is to be waiting for any vaccine passport to come in.

Even if we take away the moral dilemmas and the uncertainties of government thinking, and even if countries around the world agreed in unison to have a vaccine passport, think of how long it will take to implement a secure global system of vaccine passports.

Even on a national level, think how long it will take to roll something like this out. It’s not going to happen overnight. Realistically, it’s going to take years.

A few years ago, there was a big discussion in the UK about identity cards — and they figured out it would take three or four years to implement an identity card scheme.

Think of all the possibility of fakes. A vaccine passport scheme wouldn’t be safe if it was easy to have a counterfeit, just like a travel passport is only safe now because of all the developments they’ve made so that people’s passports are very hard to counterfeit.

I’ve been talking with people in the aviation and the travel industry, and to experts on data systems.

And this is what they told me.

According to them, it’s possible. And maybe the world will agree that it’s possible. But even if we exclude the ethics, it’s still going to take at least 12 months for something like this to be in place.

So vaccine passports may be a thing that’s talked about, and that is being considered — but in terms of how it impacts us as travellers this year, even next year, I do not see that it will have any significant impacts.

What we are likely to see is a handful of countries and a handful of tour operators and travel companies requiring a vaccination before entering the country, going on a cruise, doing a tour.

In this kind of situation, what will be required is an evidence of vaccination that comes from a clinic, attesting that you’ve received the vaccine and which one it was.

And that is a much simpler and clearer way.

It’s very much like having a certification for yellow fever. You need a yellow fever certification to travel to certain countries — that’s a legal requirement.

I have it. It has the exact details of the dose I was given, and the date was given it. And I have what I know as my little yellow book. And I think that could be something that countries or companies will introduce.

But ultimately, I don’t think the idea of vaccine passports — or even needing a vaccination — is going to change how travel is set up.

Certainly not for the next 12 months. Around the world, we’ve moved to this situation where if you’re negative, countries allow you to come in.

And I think vaccination is just an extension of that.

So if you’ve been vaccinated, it’s likely that you’re not going to need a PCR test to enter a country, because you can show your vaccination instead.

Which means if you are vaccinated, it’s likely to make travel cheaper — you won’t need a PCR test every time you go in and out — but it’s not going to change the basics of it.

The basics being that we can travel safely if we know we are not carrying the virus.

Recently, there were reports that Turkey might allow people without a test, and without vaccinations, to enter the country. And I’m not against that either.

What I am against are the blanket bans on travelling, and the double requirements.

Why do you need to quarantine the moment after entering the UK, if you arrive with a negative test? And then you must do a test on day two and be negative, then you must stay, do a test on day eight and be negative, then after day 10, you can leave quarantine?

That is way over the top. That’s stopping travel and it’s that which needs to change.

So I don’t see vaccine passports as a bad thing per se, because I think they can be a way to change that. Can you imagine a country saying that if you are vaccinated, you can come in — but first you have to quarantine for 10 days, like they have been doing some times with PCR tests? I don’t think so.

What I do hope and feel for the coming months is that we all need to travel safely. We all need to feel safe and we need to travel responsibly.

So whether a destination requires a test or not, we need to be sure that we are not taking the virus with us. When I travel, I want to be doing that. And I have been doing that, knowing when I enter a new country, I am not bringing anything negative into it.

For me, the whole debate around vaccine passports is getting whipped around — when the experts are saying that it’s not practical, and it’s not really going to come into place.

What is likely to come into place is that you will have papers saying that it’s safe for you to travel, and that then you will able to travel.

By Stephen Bailey. Edited by Beatrice Becker.