What Is a COVID Vaccine Passport and How Do They Work? Certificates Banned in Texas, Florida

So-called vaccine passports are increasingly being rolled out, trialled, or considered around the world as countries seek to reopen their economies while fighting the COVID pandemic.

While passports are typically used for international travel, current vaccine passports for COVID tend to be for domestic use.

Taking the form of either a paper document or digital app, the idea is that a person who is vaccinated receives a certificate that proves they have had the vaccine. This proof may then be shown at the entrance to a venue or establishment to grant the person entry.

COVID vaccine passports may soon be used for travel though. The EU is planning a certificate that would allow people to move freely within member states.

Dr. Henry Wu, associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine, told Healthline: "I think it is clearly the direction travel is going."

Vaccine passports have been referred to recently in the context of COVID, but actually they have already been used for other diseases such as Yellow Fever. The Yellow Fever vaccine is a requirement for travel to some countries such as Ghana.

Will we see COVID vaccine passports in the U.S.?

Possibly, but any such system won't be run by the federal government and there is some opposition to it. In a press briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration would not support any system that would require U.S. citizens to produce proof of a vaccination.

She said: "There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential. As these tools are being considered by the private and nonprofit sectors, our interest is very simple from the federal government, which is Americans' privacy and rights should be protected, so that these systems are not used against people unfairly."

However, Psaki noted the idea could take hold in the private sector as companies seek to hold large-scale events in venues such as sports stadiums and theatres.

Greg Abbott, governor of Texas, is against the passports and on Tuesday banned state government and publicly-funded organizations from requiring them to access services.

He said: "We will continue to vaccinate more Texans and protect public health—and we will do so without treading on Texans' personal freedoms."

Florida governor Ron DeSantis went a step further and, on April 2, prohibited even private businesses from requiring them.

COVID vaccine passports around the world

In many other parts of the world, vaccine passports are being seriously considered and in some cases already implemented.

In Israel, which has the highest vaccination rate in the world, citizens who have received a COVID vaccine shot are able to get a "Green Pass" which allows them to access facilities like restaurants and gyms. The Green Pass is linked to Israel's health ministry data.

This particular passport system has been in place since February 21, and in recent days it has also been available to many non-citizens in Israel as well, who had previously struggled to get it.

Denmark launched its own vaccine pass system, called Coronapas, on Tuesday. Using an app or paper document, it certifies that people have been vaccinated and also shows whether they have tested negative over the previous 72 hours.

The pass allows people to enter certain businesses like hairdressers for now, and will soon be expanded further. Individuals who attempt to get around the system face a fine of around $400, and businesses will be charged at least $475.

The EU as a whole is planning on implementing a digital certificate at some point this year which may allow citizens to travel freely across member states once again. It is hoped it could be in place by the summer, but the BBC reports this deadline may be difficult to meet.

Domestic vaccine passports are also being considered by the U.K. and trials of such a system are expected to start shortly. At the same time, British government ministers are voicing ethical concerns.

COVID vaccine certificate Israel
Women present a COVID vaccination certificate before entering a musical performance at Tel Aviv's concert hall on March 17, 2021 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Israel is one country to have implemented the COVID vaccine passes. Amir Levy/Getty