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The difference between a vaccine passport and proof of vaccination

May 24, 2021
6 min read
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In a post-pandemic world, the ability to prove your vaccination status -- either in paper or digital form -- could significantly simplify and streamline the travel experience.

Travelers may use vaccine passports to enter certain countries, take certain cruises and tours or be exempt from strict testing and quarantine requirements. Proof of vaccination may be required to access large-scale events like concerts and sporting events.

The term “vaccine passport” is used widely, but it can be misleading. Though proof of vaccination and vaccine passports may, at face value, appear to be pretty much the same thing, there are some notable differences between vaccine passports and proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

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What is a “vaccine passport?”

(Photo courtesy of The Commons Project Foundation)

A vaccine passport usually refers to an app that hosts COVID-19 vaccine information in a digital format. This information is similar to what you’d see on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccine card. These apps can also store data about recent COVID-19 test results.

However, it’s important to note that not all of these tools currently support vaccine verification, such as Clear’s Health Pass.

Some of the publicly available vaccine passports include:

  • Clear Health Pass: Used to verify negative tests required at some sports arenas and approve tourists for quarantine-free travel to Hawaii.
  • CommonPass: Travelers on select United Airlines and Lufthansa flights from Frankfurt to the U.S., Hawaiian Airlines and United flights to Hawaii and JetBlue flights to Aruba can use the CommonPass app.
  • IATA Travel Pass: Partnering with 30 airlines worldwide, including ANA, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
  • IBM Digital Health Pass: New York partnered with IBM to create the Excelsior Pass. A New Yorker can use the Excelsior Pass if fully vaccinated in New York state, and it’s been 14 days or longer since the final shot. New Yorkers can also use the pass if they've had a negative COVID-19 PCR test administered in New York within three days or took a negative antigen test in New York in the last six hours.
  • VeriFLY: Can be used on select American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Japan Airlines flights to fly into the U.S. from abroad and to several international destinations.
  • V-Health: Its technology is already being included in a platform called HELIIX Health Pass, which has been introduced in Las Vegas to reopen the city.

The use of a digital vaccine passport is widely expected to be optional due to several factors, including smartphone access and privacy concerns. However, businesses or companies could require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination for entry.

One notable difference is Hawaii’s “Safe Travels” digital health passport, a mandatory online digital form all travelers entering Hawaii must complete to enter the state. The Safe Travels form collects health information and includes a travel and health questionnaire.

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What is proof of vaccination?

(Photo by ArtistGNDphotography/Getty Images)

If you’re in the United States, you’ll often receive a physical paper card — called the COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card — from the CDC after being vaccinated. This card includes medical information about the vaccine you received and the date and location you were vaccinated.

Currently, the only way to confirm vaccine status in the United States is this card from the CDC. The U.S. isn’t the only nation with vaccine cards. The National Health Service (NHS) of England provides cards to vaccinated citizens but, like the U.S., this card is really only a reminder for follow-up vaccinations.

Will I be required to show proof of vaccination?

(Photo by Paisley/Twenty20)

Several large-scale events have said that guests can avoid wearing a mask if they can prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.

For instance, the state of Oregon has said that vaccinated people can avoid wearing a mask in most public indoor spaces, provided they can prove their vaccination status. Some sports teams have also rolled out “fully vaccinated fan sections” at games. Fans must show proof of having received a COVID-19 vaccination two weeks after their final vaccine dose to sit in the section. For fully vaccinated fans, social distancing or mask-wearing aren’t required.

For travelers looking to hit the road post-pandemic, several countries have indicated that they’ll allow vaccinated travelers to skip mandatory quarantines. And in some cases, this could be a requirement. This is not a novel idea -- proof of yellow fever vaccination has long been necessary to travel to some countries.

Is requiring proof of vaccination legal?

While digital vaccine passports may not be required, proof of vaccination might be in certain instances -- especially if you want to skip social distancing, testing or mask requirements.

Some companies have also instituted vaccination mandates.

Delta Air Lines is the first U.S. airline to implement a vaccine requirement for new hires. However, Delta said the requirement would be waived for those who “qualify for an accommodation,” although it was unclear what would be considered qualifying. Existing employees will be encouraged to get inoculated, but will not be penalized if they choose not to, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said.

Is requiring proof of a vaccine legal? Experts have largely indicated that it is.

And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) backed them up, saying in December that employees can legally require that existing and new employees be vaccinated, providing exceptions are allowed on medical or religious grounds.

But the White House isn’t planning to wade into the vaccine passport debate. It was previously said that there would no federal mandate for vaccine passports or plans for a vaccine database. That means that individual states can decide whether they want to roll out vaccine passports — or not.

Just two states -- Hawaii and New York -- have vaccine passports rolled out, introduced with assistance from the private sector. But the idea is entirely off the table in several states, like Texas and Montana, which have either banned the idea altogether or have forbidden making vaccination requirements mandatory.

Bottom line

Having a COVID-19 vaccine may be required for certain trips, or be your key to avoiding other restrictions.

In these cases, a digital vaccine passport may not always be required, you will need to show proof of vaccination for access.

Featured image by MediaNews Group via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.