Vaccine Passports Are ‘On The Way’ As Biden Administration Drives Project

The Biden administration is aggressively working on vaccine passports for the U.S.. This wouldn’t just be used for travel – but potentially for some jobs and events.

New York is working on its own vaccine passports. The World Health Organization, European Union, and at least 14 other entities are as well. And several companies are looking to get in on this work. The U.S. federal government is driving on standards for this for “promoting safe return to social, commercial, and leisure activities” according to an official document leaked to the Washington Post though citizens aren’t going to be required to get them.

The Biden administration and private companies are working to develop a standard way of handling credentials — often referred to as “vaccine passports” — that would allow Americans to prove they have been vaccinated against the novel coronavirus as businesses try to reopen.

The effort has gained momentum amid President Biden’s pledge that the nation will start to regain normalcy this summer and with a growing number of companies — from cruise lines to sports teams — saying they will require proof of vaccination before opening their doors again.

Vaccine passports may be necessary for international travel, but not for domestic activities.

  • Vaccines in the U.S. will be in sufficient supply that anyone who wants one can get one. That’s no more than a couple of months away, and this effort is several months off. By the time vaccine passports are available, anyone who wants a dose will already be protected.

  • Once everyone can be vaccinated, they’re largely protected. There’s still a chance they could get Covid, but it’s really unlikely to be severe. We don’t have vaccine passports for flu.

  • If everyone who wants to be protected is protected, then we shouldn’t worry as much about those who choose not to be, or keeping away those who choose not to be.

The rest of the world will take far longer to have widespread vaccine access. Countries whose populations remain vulnerable won’t want to bring in virus. So vaccines allow for travel to open, especially to the extent that data supports vaccinated individuals not only being protected from Covid-19, but also not spreading the virus. Proof of vaccination will likely be required for much of international travel for awhile.

Vaccine passports aren’t nearly as important for the U.S. once everyone here has had a chance to be vaccinated, but these passports entail a number of complications that go into whether they’re effective. I’ve suggested that these complications make vaccine passports more for show than actual protection.

  • Which vaccines count? China is already doing vaccine passports but accepting Sinovac (perhaps 50% effective) but not mRNA vaccines (~ 95% effective). This is at a minimum an order-of-magnitude way of looking at things.

  • Does a vaccine have to be approved to be accepted? AstraZeneca is approved in 70 countries, but not the U.S. Would a U.K. citizen be considered vaccinated after taking the AstraZeneca-Oxford jab?

  • What counts as vaccination? The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is just one dose, while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are approved as two-dose regimens even though each may be as effective as Johnson & Johnson after a single shot. What about the two-dose AstraZeneca regimen, but where the U.K. is pursuing a ‘first doses first’ strategy and delaying second doses?

  • How long are passports valid? Booster shots may be required, both for continued protection and to adapt to variants. Will those be required to keep vaccine passports active? We don’t know how long vaccines are yet effective, but vaccine passports will have to have expiry dates.

There will have to be a lot of compromises, and each one limits the effectiveness of a ‘guarantee’ that someone has been vaccinated. And that’s before even getting into the security of these passports.

In the U.S. there’s only limited reason to fake a vaccination card, since it’s going to be easy to get a shot within a couple of months. Only the vaccine skeptics who don’t want to take a shot but who want to present themselves as having done so (versus grandstanding that they will not do so) who might need to forge credentials. For the rest of the world, where vaccines will remain scarce longer, fraud is going to be a significant issue.

That said, there are other reasons some are pushing for vaccine passports.

  • This is going to be used not just for credentials but to motivate vaccine skeptics who want to “go on vacation and resume other aspects of daily life.”

  • And they could be used to tie individuals to specific shots and future health outcomes, for evaluating long-term efficacy of the vaccines themselves.

Of course the data states and the CDC currently have on vaccinations that have been deployed is messier than we often imagine when looking up statistics on distribution of doses. It may be difficult to tie people to records in existing databases to prove vaccination, and CDC vaccine cards are easily faked – just card stock anyone can print and write on.

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 »

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  1. I’m surprised you’re comparing “effective” rate directly, since this is against the advice from medical community, regardless of which administration.

  2. @NotADoctor – there are a lot of caveats here, but I think we can say something about Sinovac vs Pfizer-BioNTech, even aside from the lack of data on the Sinovac Coronavac vaccine that’s been shared.

  3. The vaccine card will overtake the ebt as the preferred card of New York, Cali will soon follow.

  4. Screw the US government.

    US citizen, but bailed out in 2020 and been international ever since.
    I wonder why to come back. Just a bunch of monkeys doing terrible things to citizens.

    Unreal this is happening in real life.

  5. Interesting that Lord Fauci the Ferret hasn’t commented on vaccination passports…he flaps his pie hole on just about every other aspect of COVID-19…just wondering if he follows his own advice.

  6. The issue with vaccine passports is that vaccines are basically pointless to begin with. The virus has already mutated to resist current vaccines and will continue to do so. Plus vaccines do not 100% prevent getting and spreading it.

    Thus all a vaccine passport proves is that you have that vaccination. It doesnt mean you dont have covid and arent spreading it.

  7. Lol…..another “travel tax”. I guess the government has to pay for all the stimulus checks that they gave out over the past 12 months including the checks given out to people who didn’t lose their jobs during the pandemic.

  8. If the vaccines work and spread and death rates crater, why would we even need a vaccine passport? I know the paper cards now being used are kind of a joke and easy to fake, but it seems to be that by the time some more secure digital verification system is put in place, will it even be needed? And if spread rates are down and deaths become basically nil, at what point would this system go away (we are talking about the federal government here, so historically the answer would be never)? Sounds like another permanent fix to a temporary problem.

  9. Once the infrastructure exists for these passports, and using them to enter public venues has been normalized, it is crazy to think they won’t grow to include things beyond the covid vaccine. Any time we give away freedom or privacy, we never get it back.

  10. Dr. Here… read many (if not all) of the studies. Very fortunate to have had the vaccine way back in early Jan. these results are excellent and hopefully will lead to a paradigm shift in future treatments. We may (and likely do not) need 20 years to prove effectiveness… Symptoms are low, transmissions low. “Vaccination passports” or proof of vaccination should be the key to entry anywhere. This is extremely similar to Yellow Fever, etc. required around the world. I feel far more comfortable going to work knowing how effective these vaccines are. Of note – since full vaccination for me and my wife have been to 7 countries. We have always worn (n95) masks when out and about, and have felt super comfortable (even not assuming vaccine). Just wear the mask. If I can survive 18 hours in an OR with one one, you can do it for your groceries.

  11. I wish they would require vaccine passports for domestic flights, or a negative test. Hawaii is the only place I am currently comfortable flying because of the testing requirement.

  12. @Gary, this vaccine passport idea seems to have raised the ire of anti-vax, anti-Fauci crowd.

    BTW, nobody seems to argue with the yellow fever card, yet–“Yellow fever virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that causes yellow fever, an acute infectious disease that occurs in South America and sub-Saharan Africa. Most patients with yellow fever are asymptomatic, but among the 15% who develop severe illness, the case fatality rate is 20%–60%.”

    Hmmm, sounds to me kinda like the Covid statistics. Granted, there are Covid mutations , but the boosters for region-specific variants will be the norm, not the exception.

  13. Also on a personal note — I ask (every) patient wearing a mask below their nose…. How is a COVID test administered? They all reply – “Up the nose”…. To which I educate – if the test is in the nose (because that’s where the virus is found), then why wear a mask below the nose. SO far to date —– 0/200+ reasons meet muster. At this point, I firmly believe wearing a mask below one’s nose is a statement, or a sign or stupidity. After all of the education, can no longer be attributed to ignorance.

  14. “It’s completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply participate in normal society.”

    -Ron DeSantis

    Expect a fight over this. We’ll see what the Supreme Court thinks.

  15. @AdamH

    So do all states. I do not recall every having to show a QR code to get into school, or the market, or a sporting event.

  16. The Biden White House came out more or less saying today that the federal government won’t be building a federal vaccine/immunity/health passport. The Admin will come out with guidance about how they should or should not work, but the Feds won’t build it.

  17. “ This wouldn’t just be used for travel – but potentially for some jobs and events…”

    If you think this nonsense is even REMOTELY going to stop with so few applications, you are incredibly naive.

    Something like this has been a fever dream among certain people for decades.

  18. “If everyone who wants to be protected is protected, then we shouldn’t worry as much about those who choose not to be, or keeping away those who choose not to be.” Way to miss the point. First off, other countries are not going to want anti-vaxxers within their borders spreading covid. Second, the people refusing the vaccines and getting infected with covid give the virus an opportunity to further mutate and maybe even mutate into a variant that can evade the vaccine and put us all at risk. If enough people do not take the vaccine the pandemic will just keep going. Not sure why people still can’t understand this.

  19. “We don’t have vaccine passports for flu.” Did you seriously just put covid into the same category as the flu???? 550,000 Americans have died to Covid in the past year. You make some disgusting comments but shame on you Gary. This has to be one of the most ignorant observations you have made in awhile.

  20. @Bill – No, I’m putting covid for those fully protected by an mRNA vaccine in the category of flu, which is likely an overstatement.

  21. @Bill – I wrote clearly that international travel is a separate matter entirely. And I’ve written extensively about the importance of getting the vaccine.

  22. Two things… if this vaccine is so great, if people get the vaccine they should be protected from people who don’t right? another thing, what about people that have autoimmune deficiencies and cannot be vaccinated? how are we going to be able to proof this? how are we going to be able to travel, go to events etc.
    Just sounds a little too aggressive and just plain insane to me!

  23. @Bill: Yes, it’s a viral infection to which there is no natural immunity. That is a type of influenza.

    67,000 died of the seasonal flu in 2019. Where was your outrage then?

  24. @1KBrad – you’re too stupid to realize Covid has a 10x death rate vs. the flu, leaves more permanent damage for many who survive, and is a whole lot more contagious. Not surprising from a MAGAite though.

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