The idea of vaccine passports isn’t new. It existed before the pandemic–Israel, for instance, requires travelers to be vaccinated for a variety of diseases before entering the country–and it was an immediate part of the conversation when borders began to close in March 2020. A number of companies and countries are developing small-scale vaccine passports now, hoping they’ll encourage travel.
But small-scale efforts aren’t helping fast enough.
“It is crucial to establish uniform guidance” and “the U.S. must be a leader in this development,” said a letter written by over two dozen airline and business groups to the White House, to be received by coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients. These groups want the Biden administration to establish temporary, federally verified credentials to allow travelers to easily attest their vaccination status, paving the way for easier travel. (The CDC is still advising that vaccinated people should not resume traveling freely. More data on post-vaccine spread is still needed before that agency feels comfortable recommending free travel.)
The groups involved in the plea are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (a lobbying group), the main U.S. and international airline trade organizations, and airline labor unions.
The air travel industry has been all but crushed by the pandemic. Compared to 2019 traveler numbers, 2021 is only at 60 percent. 2020 was closer to 15 percent. And international travel, the bread and butter of the industry, is all but gone. The industry is counting heavily on vaccination, and believe that vaccine passports, which would sidestep measures like requiring a doctor’s affidavit for every flight or lengthy quarantines, would boost international travel.
The World Health Organization and the United Nations are already also working on the idea of vaccine passports, but the airline industry believes that the involvement of the U.S. government—especially the CDC—is necessary to instill confidence in such a program.