Is This The Worst Argument Yet Against Vaccine Passports?

Vaccine passports can be a temporary tool that allows travel to re-open. Since several Covid-19 vaccines have been shown not just to protect the person that’s vaccinated, but also to prevent spread, they can help assure a country that visitors who have had a shot are less likely to infect their citizens with the virus.

For vaccine passports to be useful, a large enough cohort of people need to have been vaccinated that it’ll make a difference in travel. At the same time, vaccine passports should no longer be necessary once there’s enough vaccine that anyone who wants one can get one.

The U.S. won’t need to limit travel to those who have been vaccinated. That’s because in a couple of months all citizens will have been able to get shots and become protected. The health care system won’t be at immediate risk of becoming overwhelmed. It will be important to watch for variants with the potential evade vaccines, and likely to update vaccines or provide boosters. But restricting travel won’t be necessary here.

In contrast, countries where most of the population remains vulnerable to the virus – that haven’t been hard hit yet, and that have been slow to vaccinate – will need to ensure that travelers don’t bring the virus with them. Much of the Asia Pacific region falls into this category.

At the same time, there are thorny questions presented by vaccine passports – both practical and ethical.

  • What counts as vaccinated? What vaccines count (China so far is saying only Chinese-made vaccines are acceptable, but would a vaccine not approved in the U.S. be eligible here)? Is a second dose of a two-dose regime needed, if the first dose appears roughly as effective as a one dose vaccine (eg Pfizer vs. J&J)? How long do vaccine passports last, when we don’t yet know how long vaccine protection lasts? What kind of proof is acceptable and how secure and difficult to fake is it?

  • What are the ethics of excluding the unvaccinated? Are there carveouts for those whose health or moral objections preclude their vaccination? Do the unvaccinated have a right to travel and how does that compare with the rights of others not to be around people that may be infectious? What does a world look like where citizens of whole countries or continents are less likely to be permitted to travel than those of other countries and continents?

These are complex issues, and while some countries have opened up to the vaccinated, if supply grows fast enough and the pandemic is controlled vaccine passports may ultimately be more of an academic question than practical reality for most – enforcement is uneven inside Israel, even.

However there are not very complex issues and weak arguments against vaccine passports, too. I was disappointed especially to see one such example offered by Dr. Drew Pinsky.

I was a huge fan of Loveline with Dr. Drew and Adam Carolla in the mid- to late-90s. But here he just seems to not understand how vaccination requirements for international travel worked in the pre-pandemic world.

Smallpox vaccination was commonly required for international travel up until 1980 when the disease was declared eradicated. Vaccine certificates were imperfect – they were faked, they weren’t always checked, and some people who had been vaccinated and had certificates didn’t have immunity for one reason or another. But they provided some assurances, and also incentivized those who traveled to get vaccinated contributing to the eradiation of the disease.

Several countries in Africa and Asia require proof of Yellow Fever vaccination if arriving from a country where that is prevalent. Requirements vary, for instance whether a vaccination certificate is required for international-to-international transfer or only for entry into the country. It’s always important to look up travel requirements before you attempt to cross a border.

There are requirements to show vaccination against meningococcal meningitis and polio for entry into certain countries as well, depending on your recent travel history.

The notion that vaccine documents as a condition of travel is a bright line we’d be crossing for the first time, and therefore risking a slippery slope, is wrong on the facts. However since we’re in a global pandemic, vaccine passports could be required on a larger scale than ever before and the complex arguments should thus be taken seriously.

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, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. We NEED a passport to also include vaccination for rubella, Measles, mumps,tetanus, chicken pox, shingles, pneumonia,malaria, Ebola, den Ur fever,m whooping cough, yellow fever and influenza…

    If we can save just one life….

  2. And a full medical examination prior to traveling, including refusal of traveling for colds, allergies, etc. since those coughing and sneezing could also potentially spread a germ. Also anyone older than 45 should not permitted to travel since they would be considered a high risk person that could become seriously ill. Finally, children under 16 should not be permitted to travel because they could be an asymptomatic carrier of something.

  3. I say Biden and Harris should just reinstate stay-at-home orders across the country for at least another 24 months and other leaders follow as well. This will ensure all of us stay safe and stay alive. Travel will be there when we return. I also think Asia was correct pre-covid with their mask wearing. Masks should be indefinite requirement (5 year minimum) to go into public (for supplies and emergency reasons only). #TeamLockDown #MaskUp #SaveLives

  4. Subtlety and nuance when it comes to COVID…. yeah, good luck. Suppose I told you that the number one threat to COVID surges in the US is our porous Southern border, and that we should “lock down” the border the way Canada has done to us. Is my assertion true? I don’t know, because no one in the current administration wants to know! I will say the cases in our community (very far from the border) are predominantly in Hispanic patients. What would happen if the vaccine passport was considered acceptable ID for voting in Georgia- would worlds collide?

  5. Gary – STOP ATTAKING people who have a different opinion from yours.
    You have ZERO medical expertise, so stay away from the health topics. Like the other commenter said: “We don’t need to pay any attention to vaccination opinions of a travel blogger.” So stop to spread homophobia and divide. Go to China and get your COVID vaccine shot there if you’d like – nobody would object, it’s your choice.

    Wear your mask, keep good hygiene, and stay positive.

  6. Assuming from the ridiculous comments – MANY OF YOU HAVENT TRAVELED TO MANY INTERNATIONAL DESTINATIONS as there’s several countries that require proof of various vaccines / or YOU CANNOT ENTER THEIR COUNTRY …
    This is to keep the USA population safe from Covid and its variants

  7. @Louise

    Ah, yes. The classic “other people do it too” argument. Well I’m sold now.

  8. We should all have to show our papers at any time, for anything.
    Let’s stay safe America. Save a life (especially if it’s a rich politician)

    Only certain types of people should be allowed to travel.
    Only certain people who have specific opinions should be allowed to speak up publicly, especially online.

    No diversity is allowed, only the groups WE like, should be allowed.

    Everyone else should be silenced and kept lock up, if you don’t agree, you’re wrong and evil.

  9. The level of ignorance shown in the above comments — and in the good doctor Drew’s statement — is frankly shocking.

    Even a cursory check of the WHO’s website shows that a Yellow Fever vaccine certificate has been a mandatory part of the international travel scene for decades. For those of you out there who are true scholars, however, there was also a required Smallpox vaccine for just about ANY international travel. But, really, who needs scholarship?

    So, go ahead, just wing it and post a comment. Actual knowledge? Bah, who needs that?

  10. A vaccine passport basically excludes all of Africa and lots of Asia from traveling. What about the migrants coming across the southern border, if they can’t be admitted because they don’t have a vaccine passport they will just opt to skip the legal crossing?

  11. Before applying extra burden on everyone, and more government control upon citizens and visitors, remember:
    – current vaccines DO NOT prevent you from contracting the virus, spreading it and getting sick;
    – there is never fit-all solution for anything;
    – regular flu kills more people every year than COVID, yet it’s optional to get vaccinated from it and no requirements for travel even if you sick with common flu;
    – ALL CURRENT covid-19 vaccines are literally an experimental medication, meaning there is no knowledge how exactly they work or potential risks in the future;

    Dr. Fauci said that new vaccines are coming this fall – so are the new variants of the virus, hence current vaccines maybe obsolete by then. Use your logic!

    And if you’d like to travel to Russia – you’ll need to pay for Sputnik shot, and 3 shots of vodka 😉 – right on the border.

  12. Should also have Cardio score and BMI on the passport as well. If we can just save one life to obesity……

  13. Guys, don’t hate on Gary too much. He posts these pro-vax and pro-vax-passport articles to make himself feel better about taking an experimental drug.

    Every media news outlet, facebook, twitter, instagram all hammer on messages of FEAR FEAR FEAR. After a while you start buying into that fear.

    Then the logical part of your brain that thinks about the actual risk shuts off because its been hammered for so long with negative fear based messaging.
    Every bit of data you hear that goes against the fear message you start to ignore because you now believe what you have been hearing/seeing for months.
    After a while longer, you start defending the fear which you have developed an emotional bond with.
    After that, you find ways in your own mind to justify cutting out people from the world who don’t buy into the fear.
    Logic is gone. Numbers don’t matter. It’s all about defending the programming that’s been shoved down his throat over the past year.

    Gary is at that point now where he’s building an emotional framework in his mind to justify why people shouldn’t be allowed to fly.

    We love you Gary and we always will, but it’s time to grow up and realize that Covid is a global con, and you’ve fallen for it hook-line and sinker.

  14. Once again, the stupid in some of these comments is astonishing. I can see why some countries may not want such selfish & ignorant American visitors.

  15. Most Americans don’t have a passport.

    THere’s probably a huge overlap between those who don’t have a passport and those who are anti-vax.

    There’s also a big overlap between anti-vaxxers and fans of Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew.

  16. LK, right on. I can assure u that the stupid comments above are made by Trumpsters, people who admire the racist grifter and his former porn star wife Melania.

  17. @Alex, there are a lot of falsehoods in your comment, and you keep repeating them on every discussion. Do more research and only respond when you can cite facts correctly.

    “– current vaccines DO NOT prevent you from contracting the virus, spreading it and getting sick;”
    With at least the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, they are 90% or better at preventing you from getting infected or spreading virus 2 weeks after the first shot. They’re not perfect, but that’s a pretty terrible line to draw, if that’s the one you’re drawing.

    “– regular flu kills more people every year than COVID, yet it’s optional to get vaccinated from it and no requirements for travel even if you sick with common flu;”

    That is quite false, by an order of magnitude. The US most definitely does not have over 500k deaths from influenza every 12 month period. It’s more like 60k. US deaths from COVID-19 over the last year are about equivalent to GLOBAL annual deaths from the flu.

    “– ALL CURRENT covid-19 vaccines are literally an experimental medication, meaning there is no knowledge how exactly they work or potential risks in the future;”

    Pfizer expects to file its Biologics License Application this month. When they get their full approval, based on data that they have already announced publicly, will you acknowledge that the vaccine is safe and is no longer “experimental” or will you just move the goalpost? I expect the latter, considering your disingenuous arguments so far, but I’ll happily welcome you to the right side of this argument if you accept the falsehood of your arguments about the safety once the license is issued.

    “Dr. Fauci said that new vaccines are coming this fall – so are the new variants of the virus, hence current vaccines maybe obsolete by then. Use your logic!”

    I’m using my logic, and this is a ridiculously stupid argument. First, Fauci has also said they expect the current vaccines to provide protection against any variants out there right now and likely against any future variants. However, caution is the better part of valor, so they’re preparing the process for updating shots or giving boosters in case that turns out to not be the case for a not-yet-existing variant. Second, it makes no sense at all to forego protection against all known variants because there might be something in the future. How is it logical to not be vaccinated now and for the next months or years just because this vaccine might eventually be less protective? It will still provide protection, and having been vaccinated now will likely make any boosters or variant updates you get later more effective.

  18. Thanks, Gary, for always thoughtful comments, especially about vaccination, which is an essential topic of travel. You have been not only prescient but more right than not about the aspects of vaccines and travel.

  19. WCO:
    There may be some small overlap, but Adam Carolla and Dr Drew are just slightly right of center. Drew less so than Adam. They are not antivaxxers and do not push any radical right ideas. Most of their audience are normal Americans. If you think otherwise it’s most likely that you are on the radical left.

  20. @Autolycus Thanks for putting in the time and work responding to @Alex’s idiocy.

    Cowards like him who are unwilling to take an incredibly safe and effective vaccine need to be called out every time.

  21. Correction of a typo in my earlier comment: 90% effective 2 weeks after the SECOND shot. It’s 80% effective 2 weeks after the first shot.

  22. While you’re wasting your time debating vaccination, the case was decided 116 years ago in Jacobson v Massachusetts.

    Wanna fly? Attend a stadium game? GET VACCINATED.
    Now, if the public health authorities would just make it mandatory, the problem would cease.
    There would be no negotiation.

  23. There is no “right to travel” and no one is trying to limit anyones right to travel.

    a vaccine passport is no different than CLEAR. you don’t want one, don’t get one and deal with the reprecussions.

    no one is stopping you from driving, biking, walking, crawling, or chartering your own private plane or ship. Hell you can sail a sunfish over to asia and deal with their customs and immigration when you get there for all i care.

    i’ll use my CLEAR, my Global Entry, and hopefully my electronic vaccine passport, avoid the lines, and hopefully won’t be sitting next to any typhoid mary’s. Your desire to be a ‘free rider’ on the vaccine train impedes my right to safe travel.

  24. This doctor may do a fine job of treating his patients but he seems to not have heard of international travel before. There have for decades been places where you need certain immunizations to travel and it is the other countries, not the doctor, who will decide which they are.

    Vaccination passports would be a fantastic tool to prevent the spread of COVID, get the country open sooner, and incentivize the vaccination that we need in order to defeat this scourge. But it seems this will fall apart in left/right, blue/red, pro-science / anti-science politics like so many other things.

  25. Never seen so many idiots post comments before and view from the right wing post more right wing bullshit everyday

  26. @Rush limburg – how on earth can this post be considered right wing?

    Boy, the right hates me and thinks I’m too liberal. And the left hates me and thinks I’m super conservative.

    Maybe I’m doing something right.

  27. There is going to come a point very soon in the US where everyone will have the opportunity to get a vaccination and at that point, my worrying about others’ health is over. If they choose not to get the shot, that’s their business but they are no longer my business. Wear the mask, don’t wear the mask- to each his own at that point.
    If another nation or a concert or a university makes proof of vaccination a requirement, so what? You then make your decision based on got a shot or not getting a shot.

  28. @Nick – Dr. Drew lost all his medical credibility when he basically dismissed Covid (which he walked back later…too little too late)

  29. @Tom

    I’ve been traveling internationally almost yearly since the early 70s, mainly to Asia but also Europe and Central America, and have never needed a Yellow Fever vaccine certificate nor proof of a small pox vaccine to enter ANY of about 40 countries. I also live in Asia (for 30+ years) and have never had to meet the vaccine requirements that you suggest are “a mandatory part of the international travel scene for decades.” In what countries have you had to provide such proof?

  30. I’ve been vaxed for yellow fever because I once visited a city in Africa that had absolutely no yellow fever but the next country I was visiting required all people who had visited the previous county to have the vax anyway. And that’s how it will go down with Covid passports if we allow them. Somebody will decide that if you don’t have the right vax — like for the latest variant — your passport is no good. Meanwhile, it seems pretty clear that travellers won’t be the primary cause of variant spread. Like how many people have been travelling to the UK the past few months and yet the UK variant is widespread across the world anyway? It’s a bogeyman that will be hard to keep in the box.

  31. Well, for anyone who’s still looking at this old comment thread (don’t you have anything better to do?), Sam’s comment above is another truly shocking expression of sheer, wilful ignorance. What’s with people like him?

    Anyway, according to my very quick-and-dirty count from the WHO’s website, 17 African countries currently still require a Yellow Fever certificate of vaccination in all circumstances as do many other jurisdictions (not including the US) depending upon the countries previously visited. Outside of Africa, there appear to be just two such “vaccination required under all circumstances” countries, Paraguay and French Guiana. I rather suspect, however, that enforcement may be somewhat inconsistent and that the WHO’s information may not be 100% current. CBS (the national network) posted the personal WHO Yellow Fever certificate of its medical correspondent online a few days ago, by the way.

    As for Smallpox, Sam’s point is even sillier. And Smallpox is very ancient history! But way back even in the 1970s, a vaccination certificate was still theoretically required if, again, the requirement may have been very imperfectly enforced. I hate to get personal in this sort of post, but I still have my yellow WHO smallpox certificate from that era, and the only place I consistently visited back then was Western Europe. The international immunization campaign against Smallpox is, in fact, the most successful vaccination effort ever conducted — which is why there is no more Smallpox.

  32. IMHO, people who choose not to be vaccinated should not be allowed to travel on any type of common carrier (boats, airlines, busses, trains…). This is not discrimination, you have a choice. I realize that there are some with health reasons but not every anti-vaxxer is in that category.

  33. @Sam

    Exiting your mother’s basement doesn’t count as travel.

    I travelled and stayed abroad in the 70s and remember having to show yellow cards many times. For smallpox in many cases, others too although I don’t remember which.

    I’ve had to show proof of yellow fever for travel to Africa in the last few years.

  34. @Tom

    You discredit yourself with grandstanding and name-calling. My question was about how many countries you have had to personally present the Yellow Fever certificate you talk about as being “a mandatory part of the international travel scene for decades.” Apparently none. But you say, according to the WHO, 17 African countries and Paraguay and French Guiana still require them. That’s 17 countries out of 195 countries in the world today or 8.72% of all countries. Hardly “a mandatory part of the international travel scene”, rather more like something you may need when traveling to parts of Africa.

    I made no point about smallpox except to say that I have never needed proof of the vaccine so far when entering 40 countries. That’s a fact, nothing ignorant about it. Smallpox was eradicated in 1980, the International Certificate of Vaccination against Smallpox was canceled in 1981, but I still never needed to present proof of vaccination when I traveled back then. My point here is that the average international traveler will not need proof of these vaccines (Yellow Fever and Smallpox) you call “a mandatory part of the international travel scene” when traveling. BTW, I’m not an anti-vaxxer, just making a counterpoint to your somewhat wild claim that I quoted.

  35. @Jon

    “Exiting your mother’s basement doesn’t count as travel.”

    Oh, yeah, very clever retort, I guess that wins you the argument. Obviously, you didn’t read my entire post. My Mom’s basement? I live in Asia, she lives in the US. Grow up!

  36. @Bruce, 1) nobody here is calling for an across the board vaccination requirement, so you absolutely have a choice about getting vaccinated or not. We’re talking about whether we should allow unvaccinated people to do things with others that increase the risk to public health. This is exactly like smoking cigarettes in public. You can do it in private all day long. You can’t do it in common spaces.

    2) if we’re going to get snarky about this… whatever happened to bakeries having the right to refuse customers?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *