Welcome to the brave new world where your ability to travel on a commercial airline may now depend on you passing a COVID-19 test and/or taking a vaccine. Are you planning to travel outside the country? You’re probably going to need more than just your U.S. passport. You may also have to show your COVID-19 ‘vaccine immunity passport’ before you are allowed to board a flight.
One of the proponents of the digital health passport is Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. For about a year now, Gates has been pushing for digital health passports to be required for travelers to prevent the spread of disease and also as a measure to facilitate safe travel around the world and return people to pre-pandemic life.
Ten months after the idea of an immunity passport was first proposed, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), announced Wednesday that they are ready to roll out a new travel app (called Travel Pass) to manage COVID-19 tests and vaccines certifications. IATA, the premier global trade organization for airlines with 290 members, said the new Travel Pass app is set “to go live in March.” Meanwhile, experts said the new vaccine passport raises ethical concerns, privacy issues, and a high risk of discrimination.
Meanwhile, big tech companies and startups are racing to develop ‘immunity passports’ for COVID-19. Tech and travel companies including airlines are teaming up to create the digital “vaccine passports.” For example, IBM is working on Digital Health Pass. The app is designed to provide organizations with a smart way to bring people back to a physical location, such as a workplace, school, stadium, or airline flight.
Airports in Paris and Singapore as well as airlines including United and JetBlue are already experimenting with the Travel App to verify travelers are Covid-free before boarding. Singapore Airlines and twenty other airlines are already testing the Travel App. In recent weeks, more airlines, such as American Airlines have expanded the use of immunity passports for international travel.
“The key issue is one of confidence. Passengers need to be confident that the testing they’ve taken is accurate and will allow them to enter the country,” said Vinoop Goel, IATA’s regional director of airports and external relations.
The idea behind the immunity passport was first proposed by some governments that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said there is not enough evidence about the effectiveness of the immunity passport.