There were, at last check, no fewer than a half-dozen vaccine passport platforms available on the Internet — and that number has likely grown by now, a product of the combination of a free enterprise system, the need and desire to return to business and leisure travel, and a health threat that makes keeping everyone safe an absolute priority.
And while I realize the term, “vaccine passport,” raises hackles in some people, I would also like to point out a few things, all of which are essential both to understanding the issue and to developing a resolution to its problems (“Vaccine passports increasingly viewed as the key to unlock world travel and cries of discrimination: ‘We need to be ready,’ ” April 9).
First, vaccine passport is a collective and generic term. It means, generally, any platform, app or documentation of health information that is necessary for an individual to travel. (For those who don’t use smartphones, where a plenitude of apps can be found, physical documents can be used). Despite the moniker, vaccine passports are not issued by the State Department. They are, as previously noted, any form of documentation of health status.
Second, the idea of vaccine passports is absolutely nothing new. Those who want to travel to specific international destinations, just as one example, have been required for years to have proof of vaccination against yellow fever. This is not a novel concept, nor is it governmental overreach; it is a health precaution required for entrance to many countries and has been in effect for decades. Please educate yourself on this fact prior to erroneously claiming vaccine passports are some kind of new control or tracking program.
What is problematic, however, is the number of programs, platforms, apps and documents available. Multiple airlines are now aligning themselves with various branded programs; some use the Clear Health Pass, some use Common Pass, some use IATA Travel Pass, some use IBM Travel Pass, and the list goes on. This has resulted in a great deal of confusion and has fed into the suspicion surrounding the concept of (and validity of) vaccine passports.
In order to restore trust, there must be one unified information platform that is accepted by all airlines, all agencies and other forms of transit, is acceptable on all routes of travel, has the ability to hold all information safely and confidentially and, perhaps most importantly, is user-friendly and available to all, even those who are not tech-savvy.
If what it takes to restore travel to its pre-pandemic levels is proof of a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination (and by this, I mean whatever vaccines are essential to the travel route of an individual passenger), then our elected leaders, as well as our transportation and border authorities, need to do what it takes to create and adopt this in a singular platform. There can be no exceptions, no multiple avenues and no confusion.
Our priority must be, and should be, getting travel back to normal. Approximately 65% of all American jobs lost to the COVID pandemic were supported by the travel industry. In fact, a total of 5.6 million travel-related jobs were lost in 2020, according to research from the U.S. Travel Association and Tourism Economics. An enormous number of those jobs were held by women who make up the bulk of the service industry.
One essential part of getting the economy back on track is returning travel to its pre-pandemic status. We cannot do this without the common denominator of a universal vaccine passport. I urge all affected agencies and elected officials to pull together to require one platform, app or service that everyone can use to the best of their abilities. This may not be the only steppingstone in the road back, but it will be an enormous and important one.
Mary Helen Sprecher, Columbia