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EU Planning to Issue COVID-19 Vaccine Passport by Summer

EU Planning to issue COVID-19 Vaccine Passport by Summer 2021.

Remember dinner out? Remember water cooler gossip and crowded halls? We’re inching closer this summer as many countries, including the European Union look at ways for travel to safely resume sooner rather than later.

As the world slowly marches towards our new normal, the European Union is planning to implement vaccine passports by summer. This has wide-ranging implications for ex-pats, international students, and migrant workers.

With so many countries depending on tourism, it’s vitally important to re-invigorate our airlines, tourism, and hospitality industries. Restoring mobility in time for the busy summer travel season is desperately needed for the hundreds of struggling small businesses and their employees who depend on the tourist trade.

Iceland, though not a member of the EU, began issuing its citizens digital certificates this January. Iceland is part of the Schengen Travel Zone and hopes early implementation will help with the unimpeded travel of its citizens.

Denmark has plans to roll out their own digital vaccination certificates by the end of this month. For now, it will be limited to business and essential travel. Within 3 to 4 months, they hope to roll out a program for all travelers.

Expats, who have struggled with the inability to return home, whether for business, pleasure or family matters, may have to wait a little bit longer. The combination of countries prioritizing who gets vaccinated and countries requiring vaccination to travel could mean a longer wait for a vaccine passport. After missing out on weddings, funerals and celebrations for almost year, waiting even longer is a bitter pill to swallow for many.

The population most likely to travel and vacation abroad, those who are healthy and between the ages of 18 and 59, will be among the very last to be vaccinated, likely not until the end of 2021. Given the slow pace of vaccine rollouts within the European Union, it’s possible those least at risk will not be vaccinated until 2022. Currently, less than 5% of the EU total population (447.7 million) has been fully vaccinated.

For international and transient workers, a vaccine passport could open pathways to well-paying jobs that have been inaccessible for a year.  There is no doubt the global economy has suffered in the last year and those hit hardest are in the sectors most likely to benefit from a vaccine passport and increased travel this summer.

Countries like Greece and Spain, whose GDP depends on tourism, strongly favors the implementation of vaccine passports. Tourism accounts for a whopping 25% of Greece’s GDP. Though Spain’s economy is less dependent on tourism, Spain is still the favored destination for vacationers from the UK.

Those who have been fully vaccinated are less likely to suffer serious illness in the unfortunate event they are infected upon arrival in a foreign country or become infected during their stay. Health care capacity varies widely across the EU so individuals travelling with a vaccine passport may be seen as less likely to create a burden on already overwhelmed systems.

Critics of the proposal, including the World Health Organization (WHO), are concerned it could become discriminatory, with the free movement of individuals restricted. Free movement of people and goods has long been a principle of the European Union and Schengen Travel Zone, benefiting students and workers with a single unified visa policy.

Additionally, the WHO also states there is insufficient information to confirm that vaccines actually reduce transmission, particularly for the new and rapidly spreading variants. There is a chance that even vaccination would not protect against serious illness, if one is infected with a variant. Research is still ongoing to determine effective our vaccines are against these new varieties. Pfizer-BioNTech announced, in early February, new studies exploring the possibility of a third booster shot to combat the spread of variants.

A broadly implemented vaccine passport could be an ineffective waste of time and funds. Scientists worldwide have been clearly stating that even vaccinated individuals should continue to practice all standard precautions to reduce transmission, including wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, hand hygiene and staying home if any symptoms (even one) are present.

Other concerns being raised are the potential for fraud and data exploitation. If a vaccine passport is required for travel, un-vaccinated individuals might try to obtain black market documents to cross borders successfully.

Depending on the exact details of any plan, there are privacy concerns with sharing private health information such as vaccination status and previous infections, either in a public-private partnership or with border services of other countries.

Given those realities, critics of the vaccine passport plan question whether there would be sufficient benefit to the plan. There is no confirmed word yet on what a vaccine passport will look like or what form it will take, digital or physical. There is also no set implantation date nor the necessary bureaucracy to implement and maintain such a system.

Many countries around the world are considering implementing some form of vaccine certificate. One of the more obvious benefits would be increased vaccine take-up, if such an incentive as the ability to travel were tied to vaccination.

It seems likely that vaccine passports will become a reality for the European Union and its member countries such as Germany. If you decide to travel to Germany or any other EU country, make sure to check the requirements before departure to prevent being turned away. And always practice social distancing, mask-wearing, and hand hygiene, regardless of your vaccination status.

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