Skip to content

Vaccine passports are extremely popular, but some people have concerns

April 13, 2021
7 min read
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

We’ve spent a lot of time at TPG over the past few months talking about vaccine passports: what they are, who’s making them and where you may be able to travel with one. Not every app or platform will offer the same features, but proving your vaccination status will likely be an essential part of the travel experience after the pandemic.

It’s important to note that most vaccine passports currently available or in development are free and voluntary to use. “Vaccine passport” is a pretty broad term, and several platforms, such as IATA’s Travel Pass, shy away from the term “passport” altogether.

Creators of vaccine passports say they’re a streamlined approach to digitizing paper health documents and designed to verify the information to reduce the likelihood of fraud. But critics say that mandating vaccine passports could deepen inequalities already intensified by the pandemic. So, as travel begins to reopen, should you use them? Here’s what you need to know.

For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Equity concerns

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

There are stark inequalities in who has access to the COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. and worldwide. Experts fear those lines could be even further divided with the use of vaccine passports.

And the question is: Are we willing to leave people behind in a push to get back to normal? So far, some forms of vaccine passports have been used to fly on international airlines and to enter sporting events and other large-scale gatherings. For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t support requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travel. However, it said its recommendations would evolve “as supply expands and as evidence about existing and new COVID-19 vaccines is compiled.”

“If vaccine passports dictate freedom, opportunity, employment, they could negatively impact those who do not have access to the vaccine or even the technology around passports,” said Saskia Popescu in an email TPG.

Popescu is an assistant professor of the biodefense program at George Mason University. She recently wrote an essay for The New York Times’ opinion section warning about potential ethical hurdles.

“Any time we’re implementing tech during an emergent time, there’s, of course, a concern for privacy, equity, and ethics,” Popescu said.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

The COVAX program was created to ensure the equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines to middle and low-income countries. But much of the developing world trails behind -- and it may be years before their citizens are vaccinated en masse. According to a New York Times study, just 0.1 percent of COVID-19 vaccines have gone to low-income countries, while nearly 90% have gone to wealthier ones.

The East African country of Malawi, for instance, has received just 360,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX program. These first doses will go to healthcare workers and the elderly.

And we don’t see inequalities just outside of the U.S.

While almost 22% of Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the disparities are evident when you look at the data by race. In the United States, whites outpace Black Americans in every state that reports vaccine racial data, even in states with a higher population of Black Americans.

Experts say they believe these inequalities could be widened if vaccine passports were required instead of merely suggested like they currently are.

For starters, not everyone owns a smartphone -- 81% of Americans were smartphone owners in 2019, according to a Pew Research study. But that number falls to just 39% percent for Americans over 65. Several of the makers of vaccine passports have indicated that there will be alternate ways to prove vaccine and negative test status for those without smartphones or those who don’t want to use a vaccine passport.

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the first time vaccines have been required to enter a country or participate in activities. Having received a COVID-19 vaccine could very well be a new requirement for entry to some destinations, similar to the way proof of yellow fever vaccination is already necessary to travel to some countries. But that process could leave people who don’t have access to the vaccine yet out.

“To do any sort of international global travel, you have to have certain ease to be able to afford those vaccinations,” said Jennifer Syvertsen from the Center for Health Disparities Research at the University of California, Riverside. “I can imagine that something like [a vaccine passport or vaccine requirement], depending on how the system is set up, could create an extra hurdle for folks who don't have all that privilege in the time and having the funds to be able to get everything together,” she continued.

“[The use of vaccine passports] is about weighing the risk and the benefit and thinking about what is really best for the collective good and the collective safety of populations and not just thinking about ourselves,” Syvertsen said.

U.S. won’t require vaccine passports for travel

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

At this point, the federal government doesn’t seem too keen on wading into the controversy over vaccine passports.

The Biden administration this week threw cold water on the idea of a federal program for vaccine passports. On Monday, March 29, both the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' acting head and the White House said there would be no federal mandate for vaccine passports. They also said there were no plans for a vaccine database.

Andy Slavitt, acting director for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said during a White House COVID-19 briefing, “The government here is not viewing its role as the place to create a passport, nor a place to hold the data of citizens. We view this as something that the private sector is doing and will do.”

Related: White House won’t require vaccine passports for travel

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki echoed that on Monday, saying that the White House wants to “encourage an open marketplace” with nonprofit organizations and the private sector.

But ethicists have concerns about leaving vaccine passport rollouts to the private sector.

“[There are] concerns around privacy, around personal health information and forgery and the ability of people to hack into these systems,” Syvertsen said.

Bottom line

Vaccine passports have been in the news a lot lately and have been framed as a way to make travel and other events much more manageable. Companies making vaccine passports have indicated that they’re aware of potential equity and equality issues, but experts and travelers have expressed concerns. This issue will continue to evolve as more individuals around the world are vaccinated.

Featured image by 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.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023