[COLUMN] What to know about vaccine passports in the age of global mobility and in our war against COVID-19

Angelina Johnson, 89, receives the Covid-19 Vaccine at Downey Mega Pod, February 1, 2021. | Photo by County of Los Angeles

VACCINE PASSPORTS are just the electronic versions of the paper proof of vaccinations we have been using in the past — whether it’s to enter the United States as new immigrants, to enroll our children in school, to comply with requirements for employment for some health care workers, and to visit a country that requires proof of vaccination as tourists, among other circumstances.

Of course, we know that the underlying rationale for this requirement is to make sure that we, as immigrants, tourists, or employees, are not bringing in communicable diseases that the places we are entering have already contained, eradicated, or are aiming to control the spread of the virus to protect their citizens and organizations.

During this time of the pandemic, many states and countries exempt travelers from quarantine when they are able to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result. But with the accelerated pace of vaccination under the Biden administration, the vaccine passport will be yet another tool that can help us in our common goal to defeat the invisible enemy, save more lives, and help our country build back better safely and faster.

According to the reporting of the New York Times, the vaccine passport that is now being talked about is “the term to mean an electronic record of vaccination, possibly in the form of a QR code, that is easily accessible through a smartphone or possibly stored on the device, though it could also be printed out.”

If you have already been vaccinated even just for your first dose, you would have already received a card created by the Center for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC). The Times also mentioned, “the World Health Organization’s ‘yellow card’ used for decades by travelers to show inoculation against diseases like yellow fever. But those are on paper, filled out by hand and fairly vulnerable to forgery.”

“The tool might have to address several variables: It is unclear how long inoculation lasts, there can be bad batches and the emergence of new variants of the virus are likely to require new vaccines. So in the long run, an electronic record might need to show which specific vaccine a person received, from which batch and when,” the report explained, which again would help expedite response to the changing war zone in defeating the virus and its variants using modern technology.

Other countries have already started using some versions of the vaccine passport. As the Times reported: “In February, Israel’s government began issuing its digital Green Pass or a physical certificate to people who had been vaccinated, and it is required to enter places like hotels and theaters.”

“In the past month, hundreds more entities around the world — airlines, governments, drugstore chains and others — began using privately controlled digital systems to verify health credentials. Most are using the systems — including one called CommonPass and the International Air Transport Association’s own system, Travel Pass — on a trial basis, to verify negative coronavirus tests.”

The systems are designed to show proof of vaccination, as well, if that is required, according to the Times.

“In March, Aruba and JetBlue began allowing passengers from the United States to show a negative test using CommonPass, developed by the Commons Project, a Swiss-based nonprofit, with support from the World Economic Forum. Lufthansa passengers flying into the United States can also use it.”

“The same month, Singapore Airlines became the first carrier to make limited use of Travel Pass for people flying between Singapore and London, and will put it into wide use in May.”

The Times likewise reported that “Iceland this month eased entry restrictions for people who have been vaccinated, and Britain is about to start experimenting with a vaccine verification requirement to attend sporting events, though so far neither country has adopted a digital system.”

Here in the United States, New York State became the first state government to implement a system it calls the “Excelsior Pass,” developed with IBM, which some venues have used to prove vaccination.

However, we already hear objections from state leaders like the governors from Texas and Florida who, according to the Times, “vowed to block any such system in their states, calling it government overreach and an invasion of privacy.”

Sure these concerns about privacy are valid but these can be addressed. However, let us not lose sight of the bigger issue and that is our life and safety.

The whole world is now on the second year of battle against COVID-19 including the new variants. People have become even more weary, exasperated, desperately wanting to go back to normalcy. The use of the “travel passport” is a tool that will help us achieve that safely and faster.

We can re-open businesses and schools, travel, visit with families, participate in religious services, watch movies in theaters, attend concerts and sporting events, watch Broadway plays, go back to the gym, shop, dine in restaurants with family and friends, participate in our company events and many more that we used to do pre-pandemic. This time, we will have more certainty than before that it will be safer to do so because we are among people who are confirmed to have already been vaccinated.

Let us remember that we are still fighting a war, a prolonged war at that, and we have to use all that we can include in our arsenal to make sure we win this war.
Times have changed. Technology has enabled us to travel globally, breaking barriers like the oceans and mountains.

In the olden days, communicable diseases are contained locally, but with air travel, it is so easy for the virus to go global as well, which explains why we are now in a pandemic instead of just an epidemic. If we want to win this war, then we have to approach this on a global scale.

During wartime, life is more important than liberty. We surrender some of our personal liberties for the greater good. What can be a better reason than to save our life, and the life of all mankind?

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at [email protected], or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.

Gel Santos Relos

Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com and www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos

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