On December 3, 2020, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce announced that once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, proof of vaccination will be a requirement for travel on Qantas international flights. Airlines in the United States and other countries are thinking about a similar requirement.

A day earlier, regulators in the United Kingdom granted emergency-use authorization to a vaccine from Pfizer – BioNTech. That vaccine and one from Moderna are currently seeking approval for emergency use from the United States Food and Drug Administration. Both vaccines require two doses separated by 21 to 28 days.

Entities involved in the U.S. vaccine project Operation Warp Speed released a photo of a COVID-19 reminder card that recipients of those vaccines can use to keep track of the date when they must get a second dose.  

Department of Defense photo by EJ Hersom

The COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card records the name of the individual vaccinated, the name of the vaccine manufacturer, lot number, the date of the shot, the name of the health care provider or clinic that provided it and the time for the patient to get the second shot. Couldn’t that card be used as proof of vaccination in order to fly?

In my view the answer to the question is no. When and if being vaccinated becomes a requirement for travel or participation in other large gatherings for commercial purposes, the COVID-19 Vaccination Record Cardan ID card is not intended to and is not the best way to prove someone has been vaccinated.

Vaccination cards and test results could be easy to counterfeit. In late November, a Russian airline was forced to cancel a China-bound flight from Moscow after nearly 200 passengers provided identical negative coronavirus test results.

On the other hand, the World Health Organization has developed and implemented a kind of ‘medical passport (Yellow Card) for diseases like yellow fever that is recognized internationally and may be required for entry to certain countries where there are increased health risks for travelers. 

Wikipedia photo

The Yellow Card is kept in the travelers passport.

But creating a valid and universally accepted COVID-19 passport would seem to require establishing secure national registries and the sharing of such information among nations and businesses. The International Air Transport Association (IATA), recently chaired by Qantas’ Alan Joyce, is working on a mobile Travel Pass app that will document a traveler’s coronavirus vaccination status.

The Travel Pass will display proof of vaccination and any test results and other information. The app will also link to an electronic copy of the holder’s passport. IATA thinks this app can be deployed as soon as the first or second quarter in 2021.

Final Thoughts

IATA’s Travel Pass seems like a good way to document if someone has been vaccinated against coronavirus disease, but I’m not sure requiring vaccinations makes sense in order to require people to fly on commercial airlines or participate in other large gatherings of people. The next post on this topic will explore that issue.