Biden Administration Talking To Airlines About Creation Of Vaccine Passports

Last month I wrote that the Biden administration was pushing forward a project for vaccine passports. Many readers said – but wait, they say they will not mandate vaccine passports so nothing to see here.

That was wrong. The U.S. federal government isn’t going to require vaccine passports for citizens, nor are citizens going to be required to get vaccinated (though failing to require vaccination in exchange for $1400 stimmy checks was a huge lost opportunity in the fight against the pandemic).

However the Biden administration is working on standards to allow for vaccine passports, and has been in talks with airlines about creating them. The White House says it will offer its guidance for moving forward “soon.”

The key question, airline and travel industry officials say, is whether the U.S. government will set standards or guidelines to assure foreign governments that data in U.S. traveler digital passports is accurate. There are thousands of different U.S. entities giving COVID-19 vaccines, including drugstores, hospitals and mass vaccination sites.

Airline officials say privately that even if the United States does not mandate a COVID-19 digital record, other countries may require it or require all air passengers to be vaccinated.

The governors of Texas and Florida have ostensibly ‘banned vaccine passports’ but really they’ve just instructed state agencies not to require them.

Employers can probably require vaccination even though vaccines remain under Emergency Use Authorization (Pfizer is preparing to file for full authorization).

Beyond that, ‘proof of vaccination’ is something that will be used primarily for international travel. Many countries will require showing Covid-19 vaccination to enter (or to avoid testing and quarantine regimes). Hawaii might as well. But CDC vaccination cards don’t provide verifiable proof. You can print one off the internet on cardstock and fill it in yourself.

Currently data on who has been vaccinated is messy and resides separately with each state. And numerous questions need to be answered, such as:

  • What vaccines count? If someone received their shot abroad, with a vaccine not approved by the DA, does that count?
  • How many doses count? The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines seem about as effective after the first dose as the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine
  • How long as the passports valid? We don’t know how long protective immunity lasts yet, since we haven’t followed patients long enough to know. Yet there’s no regime in place for booster shots yet either.

Iceland is accepting CDC cards from U.S. visitors, some other countries do so far as well, but since they’re easy to forge many may not.

These are only necessary on a temporary basis, until there’s enough vaccine for everyone. Activities in the U.S. really won’t need such proof, since everyone of eligible age will be able to get one before these standards are likely out and implemented. That means fewer people will have an incentive to fake vaccination, and the risk of being around unvaccinated people is lower – enough people vaccinated and there will be far fewer cases and health care systems won’t get overwhelmed.

But in places where vaccination is proceeding more slowly, and where entire populations remain vulnerable (as in Australia for instance), there will be real concern about allowing people in who haven’t been vaccinated – especially since data so far supports the idea that vaccination drastically reduces spread of the virus.

As a result, vaccine passports increase freedom to travel, allowing travel that is otherwise completely shut down. By contrast if they were being used for restaurant dining domestically, they’d be taking options away from people that they have today.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. While I agree that paying people to get vaccinated is a good idea, at the time the $1400 relief checks were being discussed there wasn’t enough vaccine to go around.

  2. @Rico – funding could have been tied to vaccination (i.e. claim the funds post-vaccination) or could have involved an agreement to get vaccinated (return the funds to the IRS at the end of the tax year if you don’t)

  3. 1) There is a racial and demographic disparity in vaccinations. I suppose Gary doesn’t see this through his privilege, but stimulus is about helping people, not coercing citizens to get a vaccine that is a) unapproved, b) limited and c) still being understood – aka AstraZeneca

    2) Vaccines are not going to be required to go back to work. Once again – they will exclude a significant portion of the society and it will not be equal across racial lines. Also, HIPAA.

    3) Airlines don’t care about vaccine passports. They are already filling seats, never stopped flying during covid and are not interested in excluding significant segments of society.

    If you give a crap, get the vaccine and wear a mask and move on with your life. The endless focus on the vaccine and passport garbage on the site is tiring.

  4. I think worries over forged vaccination cards are overblown. The Yellow Fever card can be purchased online as blanks, or printed on the right color of card stock. While the Yellow Fever card requires the provider information, it’s just stamped or written in pen by the doctor/nurse – the same as with the CDC COVID card. Anyone can easily fake the Yellow Fever card if desired. For that matter, other travel documents are occasionally faked by sophisticated enough people or entities.

    Sure, some small number of people will fake a COVID vaccine record. Is it that widespread of an issue to invest tons of time and resources into eliminating the risk? I don’t believe so.

    Once all, or essentially all, of a country’s population has been offered the chance for a shot, there is much less incentive to be fussy about the vaccination cards of inbound travelers. And as more and more countries get vaccinated, the need for such will dwindle to nothing over time.

  5. ‘LoserLeff’ let’s go in reverse.

    3 – Airlines are filling seats with partial schedules on domestic routes. Vaccination proof is about opening international travel.

    2 – Most jobs won’t require vaccination, and I don’t think it’ll be necessary simply because there’s so much vaccine in the United States that anyone who wants one will soon be able to get one (before the Biden administration’s guidance is likely implemented). I simply cited to a law professor’s discussion about why it’s generally legal for employers to insist on this and no HIPAA is not a constraint here.

    1 – Vaccination will soon be available to everyone in the U.S. 16+. Stimulus wasn’t targeted at those who had lost jobs. It was included in the bill because it was popular and made the broader spending measures (the majority of the bill) difficult to oppose. In any case, anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one, which means they’d be able to get the $1400 payment, if it had been tied to getting a shot. What AstraZeneca has to do with that in your comment is unclear but that vaccine is approved in 70+ countries, but the 30 million dose stockpiled of that shot by the U.S. likely won’t be used here at this point.

    I’ve sure struck a nerve with you though, so thanks for playing.

  6. @Ryan – forged vaccination documentation will be a much bigger issue for people in countries where access to the vaccine remains higly limited for some time.

  7. I do not think that the use of public funds (i.e., taxes) to pay people to get vaccinated is right, especially the the vaccines are only authorized for an emergency use. Those vaccines provide ca. 95% protection. Then if you are vaccinated, your chances to die from Covid would fall below of that from regular flu even if the rest of the population is not vaccinated. So, if you are concerned, then get vaccinated and get it early thank to those who do not want to get vaccinated for one or another reason.

    However, I do not see a problem when private funds (e.g., donations) would pay individual for taken a doze of vaccine. KOA is still doing Covid-19 test upon arrival paid using private funds. Perhaps, Gary could lead such a movement by initiating a public fundraising campaign.

  8. Greggy-Poo,

    Is Europe and elsewhere going to accept the Russian vaccine or the Chinese vaccine? What about AstaZeneca? Reality is most people have been infected by super flu or have the vaccine. Simple greed will reopen international travel. This is not something you need to be posting about daily.

    Struck a nerve? Not really. Did enjoy getting a rise out of you.

  9. @Chris – Yes, I am. There aren’t enough fraudulent votes that can be cast that’ll kill someone. Unvaccinated people can. It’s also not a constitutional right to travel. Why is this so hard to understand? Rhetorical question as I’m sure you’d disgorge a pile of Q talking points that I’ll ignore. But I answered your question.

  10. 1- Vaccine records being faked won’t really be an issue here once June 15 arrives. This is a larger issue now ironically for Australia China and other countries.

    2- vaccine passports only allow freedom for a select few that choose to get vaccinated. It’s the classic a few bad apples spoils the bunch. In terms of banning overall travel.

    3- vaccine passports are highly discriminatory and has the power to limit ones ability to circulate in domestic society. You should not have your freedoms from pre pandemic suddenly gone because you choose to not get the jab. Vaccines are still meant to protect the individual. Stop requiring everyone around you to be vaccinated as you have said that vaccines stop spread.

    Im still in the camp that this threat was overblown leading to this mass panic of shutting down the world. All 20th century pandemics have been worse yet didn’t shut down the world. Ok Australia eliminated it docimesticlaly. But who would want to live for years with governments seriously impeding your basic human rights until they say you can have them back.

    Ironically – USA appears to be leading the world in reopening despite the critics. Deaths are terrible but over time could we really prevent those anyway with all these lockdown measures? The. Add the guaranteed destruction for everyone in that population.

  11. As an immigrant who has been naturalized since 2018 (and originally from a country whose passport is nowhere as strong as the US), from experience I can say one thing. While checking in at the check in counters, if airlines stop you from boarding (they have and they continue to do) because you don’t have the required visa/visa exempt status, they can and should stop boarding passengers from flying if the destination country has requirements.
    That’s where us privileged Americans will get a KITA when we get denied boarding because the country where we are going requires us to have been vaccined (and doesn’t give a RA about our so called ‘choice’)

  12. We don’t actually know how much voting fraud there is, because the controls are so lax it’s impossible to investigate.

    How many harvested ballots were faked? All that’s required to fake one is some scribbled signature that can’t be checked. There is really no way to tell, but knowing how desperate political operatives are for an advantage, by any means necessary, probably quite a bit.

    But we do have very obvious cases of elections stolen through bags of votes being mysteriously “found” in a voting official’s car, days after the election. And when that wasn’t enough, more such bags were again “found”, in sufficient quantity to elect Christine Gregoire as Governor of Washington in 2004, to make one very obvious example.

    It’s true that voter fraud doesn’t cost lives. But it erodes trust in democratic government, with many bad implications down the line. The worst is, of course, a civil war following a contested federal election. We’re not there yet. But voting fraud is serious, and corrosive.

  13. How much is the US Government paying you to peddle this nonsense?

    The only people that support vax passports are those who take the vax and want to impose their thinking upon others as a way to justify their decision to take the vax! It’s so obvious how can you not see this?

    Big Pharma spent $306M lobbying last year – the highest on record.

    Kinda weird that you’d need to spend money lobbying if there really was a pandemic…

  14. I love the idea of a vaccine passport. I suspect one of the side benefits would be that my fellow passengers are less likely to be conspiracy nuts who don’t think the rules should apply to them, who don’t want to cooperate with anyone else, and think that the definition of freedom is not having to think about anyone but themselves.

  15. @Janes – you seem like another rube who believes The Big Lie

    (oh, and Q was identified this week…just a guy, no magic powers, sorry to burst your bubble)

  16. Recent studies show approximately one third of people with covid who were not hospitalized are suffering longer term complications from the virus. As we learn more about this people are going to become much less tolerant of the anti-vaxxers and frankly they will not want to share planes/hotels/restaurants with them etc, especially now children are being infected in greater numbers and seeing complications as a result.

  17. I fully intend on getting a vaccine.

    However, “Vaccine Passports” are both unconstitutional, and un-American. It’s quite ok to believe that everyone should get a vaccine, yet balk at the idea of a ‘papers please’ form of medical ID being required for flying, or well.. anything at all. I don’t really care about the positives. Wrong is wrong.

  18. The fact they’re entertaining it shows how uneducated people in power really are. Any doctor can tell you that an IGG antibody/antigen test is the equivalent of a vaccine because antibodies from COVID-19 have lasted for more than a year. They’ll also tell you that healthy people who have the antibodies that are forced to take the vaccine for a “passport” are at a much higher risk of hyper-immune reactions.

    The government are run by idiots who operate with the philosophy of “do the most harm for the most amount of people.”

  19. @Mangar it is literally not unconstitutional—because it literally cannot be in the United States Constitution—for other countries to require proof of vaccination in order to enter. Hate to break it to you, but South Africa is not bound by the United States Constitution.

    Additionally, it is not unconstitutional for any private entity to require that people entering be vaccinated in order to do so.

    This is not about the government mandating citizens carry around vaccine papers so that they can be stopped and interrogated. It is about helping to align standards so that everything is consistent, and so that if you want to go into a concert that requires proof of vaccination, or travel to South Africa, there is standardized and trustworthy proof of your vaccination. If you don’t want to participate, you don’t have to go the concert or travel to South Africa. That’s your choice.

  20. Some really stupid peeps parroting propaganda they see or read on their “news source.”
    Keep it coming Gary, you are doing a solid with your continued focus and science backed arguments.

  21. I am totally ok with this, as reasoning with the passionately willfully unvaccinated appears to be a waste of time.

    Allowing for those with legitimate exemptions,, as I see it, the benefit will be that It will get a lot of ignorant assed people off the plane. Their choice. Our benefit.

    As the free market drives commerce, possibly an alternative pro-COVID airline can be established to suit their needs.

    Long term viability of that airline would likely be problematic, as the passenger pool will decline at a rapid pace over time. And no need for a frequent flyer program because, well… you know.

    However, promotional materials would be interesting… Souvenir body bags with the ‘Fly ProCo Air” logo in baggage claim for surviving passengers.
    And since these fiercely independent folk apparently also like sharing, they can have more than one to pass out to their unvaxed relatives.

    Fun for all from 6 to 60!

  22. Vaccinated people are not going to put up with living restricted lives to protect those who refuse to be vaccinated, so right about when the coverage rate reaches 50% the decisions will center around whether that means vaccine passports or just opening everything up. I personally favor vaccine passports, creating incentive for the reluctant to get the shot already and hasten the end of this year long catastrophe.

    I have long said the stimulus payments should be contingent on getting the vaccine – maybe $400 for the first shot and $1,000 for the second (or a month later for those with a one dose needed vaccine). This would be the best stimulus possible, since it would mean actually solving the underlying need for a stimulus rather than just treating the symptoms.

    Obviously proof of vaccination will be a feature of international travel for many destinations, just as it long has been for other diseases, when and where authorities believe it necessary.

  23. How gullible are you Gary? First of all the vaccine does not protect the inoculated person from Covid, although it is expected that the inoculated person who is in contact with the virus may experience a less difficult time dealing with the symptoms. It does not prevent the inoculated person from becoming a carrier of the virus either. Second, this sentence must have come out of the Communist playbook, “failing to require vaccination in exchange for $1400 stimmy checks was a huge lost opportunity in the fight against the pandemic.” Really? Those who have survived the pandemic (like me, a person over 70) are already bathed in the protection of our own immunity. Why would I want to allow the feds to poison me with an unproven and, yes I will say it, risky new type of “vaccine” if I am unlikely to contract Covid again? The shot is riskier than the disease for many people. So, if you think that it is OK to exchange your total lifelong health for the opportunity to get on a plane you need to consider what a bad deal that may prove to be. Equally, if you think that you should exchange your freedom to say “no” for a $1400 stimulus check you should just come out and admit that you think the CCP has many charms that cannot be denied.

  24. @DMNYC – I was referring to purely domestic usage of such a passport.

    I also don’t see the domestic use of the Covid Passport becoming a thing. As of this post, 4 states(Texas, Utah, Idaho, and Florida) have executive orders banning their use. Florida’s order goes the furthest, and will penalize private businesses for requiring one. That would include airlines, and Florida is an essential market.

  25. I wonder how a situation would work where a person flying out of FL to say PAR or MAD or some other country that does require a vaccine passport.
    How would FL’s executive orders work then? Should be interesting to see where this heads.

  26. @Krissy Woo … couple things:

    You said: “First of all the vaccine does not protect the inoculated person from Covid, although it is expected that the inoculated person who is in contact with the virus may experience a less difficult time dealing with the symptoms.”

    Experience a less difficult time dealing with the symptoms? … well that sounds a whole lot like protection. So are you saying that I should NOT be inoculated because that would mean that I reduce the possibility of potentially dying, having damaged lungs, or brain damage? Are you pro death and pro brain damage? Don’t you WANT to reduce this chance?

    Then you said: ” It does not prevent the inoculated person from becoming a carrier of the virus either.”

    Ms. Woo, you know, YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT !!! And THAT is EXACTLY WHY people need to be vaxed!

    If I’m Vaxed, and I happen to breathe it in, walk over to you and breathe out… You could get it again because you could catch it again (as you are not magically immune to variants), even though it may not affect me at all.

    And since you are SO right, THAT is why we who have been vaxed will need to continue wearing masks. To protect morons that choose not to have the vaccine. We wear masks to protect you.

    Until we as a country get tired of wearing masks, and waves of unvaxed people will continue to die. By their own choice.

    If you want maximum personal freedom with no limitations, get a shot in your arm. Hate Masks? Get Vaxed.

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