The Pandemic’s unsolicited gift to travellers- Vaccine Passport

Bharti Sharma

The word ‘Passport’ has some level of exhilaration attached to it, predominantly because it’s a mandatory travel document needed to travel to our favourite destinations. In biblical history, a passport-like document Nehemiah was used during the reign of King Artaxerxes, which set the foundation for its future utilisation. The concept of passport wasn’t new-fangled but it kept evolving over time. A newly minted passport is an identity of an immigrant which tells their country of origin and keeps a track of their travel. Now, keeping aside the legit passports we’re all used to, we are here to decode the newest passport variant in the spotlight at the moment; the ‘Vaccine Passport’ which is yet another giving to mankind by the COVID-19 virus. 

The announcement of the vaccine was like luminescence at the end of a tunnel; a silver lining raising our hopes and expectations towards post-covid world order. As the world geared up to fight the pandemic with the onset of the global vaccination drives, there’s a hope that some aspects of life would return to normalcy. Looking at the unpredictable future, it is safer to say that though the journey is long and not without hurdles but with the population getting vaccinated in large numbers, it’s definitely a start towards achieving victory.


We all had a vague idea of how travel is going to transform with the pandemic, a lot of travel experts spoke about the need for a vaccine passport and its significance. The need for a digital record indicating if you have been inoculated in order to enable safe travel fulfilling the rules being put into place by various nations. A vaccine passport is fast becoming a requirement for people who wish to start travelling again as this is now your armour against the virus. 

Customs and checkpoints

Cholada Siddhivarn, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand- Mumbai office

The industry which has been particularly hard-hit by the virus needs to get back on its feet and soon. A vaccine passport will be required to enable seamless border crossing and the synchronisation of varying national laws. It is evident that the pace of vaccination will help to ease passenger movement across international borders. Destinations reliant on tourism are also keen for vaccine passports to be introduced. Every country opening to tourism now has a guideline that only allows vaccinated travellers to enter the nation. “Given the current scenario, I feel vaccination passports are a minimal cost for returning to normal daily life and for reducing anxiety for those you come into contact with on aeroplanes or in theatres, restaurants, or public stadiums. They are a small sacrifice for the greater good. I feel, if we have the right system and infrastructure in place to issue these vaccinated passports then it would help the industry overall,” Cholada Siddhivarn, Director, Tourism Authority of Thailand- Mumbai office. 

Flipping Pages

In 1897, when Waldemar Haffkine, developed a vaccine for plague, proof of vaccination was mandatory for a section of the working community to travel. Similarly, when the smallpox vaccine was developed, South Asians were not allowed to board ships to Aden or Great Britain, or Mecca for the Hajj, without government-issued smallpox vaccination certificates. Vaccine certification checks came under the International Sanitary Regulations adopted in 1951 by WHO member states, which was replaced by and renamed as the International Health Regulations in 1969.

Breaking Barriers and diluting frontiers

Berthold Trenkel, Chief Operating Officer of Qatar National Tourism Council

Covid immunisation certificates, Vaccine Certificates, travel passes, etc. are some other titles being given to the vaccine passport as there are no global guidelines set as such. This train of vaccine passport has already left the station, the population is getting immunized and now preparing to travel. Thus, a certificate for COVID-19 smart app linked to a central database or electronic health records is a need of the hour. “The idea of vaccination passports has been discussed by many Governments and industries across the world. It is a complex topic, which involves the alignment of many international governing bodies, but any steps that can give confidence to both Governments and passengers will be helpful. We are hopeful that these entities can reach an agreement soon so that we can begin welcoming visitors back to our incredible destinations. In the meantime, Qatar Airways is heavily involved with IATA in the IATA Travel Pass initiative, which is trying to address this topic. And of course, QNTC is a member of UNWTO, which is also pushing for digital solutions in this space.” Berthold Trenkel, Chief Operating Officer of Qatar National Tourism Council.

On an itinerary of hope

Berthold believes that the concept of digital vaccination certificates is a great idea but technology only works with standardization. “Luckily more and more countries are embracing technology and standards – like the recent move of the EU to agree on a digital green certificate; welcome news for everyone as it facilitates smoother processes when crossing borders. A bit like biometric passports that are machine-readable with NFC chips. Most of us have probably already forgotten about the high-end tech in our existing passports while enjoying the convenience of e-gates. With a bit more time – we’ll enjoy the same convenience when it relates to PCR test results and vaccination records. We need the world to have confidence in travelling again so we’re working closely with the relevant parties to agree on a framework and guidelines as quickly as possible.”

Qatar continues with its successful vaccination programme that has seen 70 per cent of the eligible population vaccinated with at least one inoculation – putting Qatar in the top 10 vaccinated countries with more than one million residents. And our Ministry of Interior together with the Ministry of Public Health is working on electronic records – both for vaccination certificates and for PCR test results. 

“Pandemic has changed the way one would travel. Hygiene and Safety will be of top-most importance followed by experience. Countries now need to ensure that they communicate about all the protocol a destination follows to ensure fearless travel as that will be the main attraction once the borders open,” mentions Cholada. If the world is to have confidence in travelling again, it’s imperative that relevant parties work closely and agree on a framework and guidelines as quickly as possible.


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