This raises the prospect that proof of inoculation or immunity could be the golden ticket to rebooting travel and seems good news for people eager to book summer vacations after months of lockdown, particularly as vaccine rollouts gather pace.
They could open up the restaurants, bars, cinemas and other leisure and entertainment facilities whose closure over the past year have left many teetering on the edge of — or already victim to — financial ruin.
This week, Zurab Pololikashvili, the secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, called for the global adoption of vaccination passports as part of wider measures he said were essential to get the world in motion once again.
Testing regimes helped open up travel in summer 2020. Will vaccination passports do the same in 2021?
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images
But the concept of immunity passports remains deeply contentious, and anyone banking on it for a 2021 summer vacation could be disappointed.
While there’s strong argument that globally recognized inoculation documentation could help reconnect the planet, fears remain over what protection they actually afford, how they might be abused and what it means for those still awaiting jabs.
Questions also remain over whether they would become mandatory for any travel and how personal data would be shared safely.
Calls from several European countries to create an internationally recognized vaccination certificate this week prompted the European Union to debate the measure, even as deadly Covid-19 waves continue to ravage the continent.
“While we are not going to make vaccination compulsory or a prerequisite for travel, persons who have been vaccinated should be free to travel,” Mitsotakis wrote. “This will provide a positive incentive for ensuring citizens are encouraged to undergo vaccination, which is the only way to ensure a return to normality.”
During late summer 2020, some borders opened within the EU, allowing vacationers to seek a dose of sunshine and tourism-dependent countries to recoup some losses. There are fears that, without free movement in 2021, the economic impact could be disastrous.
Such pleas have been met with caution by other EU members.
Discussing the issue in Brussels on Thursday, they agreed the need for cross-border cooperation on vaccine certifications, but worried that using them to enable travel may result in the unvaccinated being treated as second-class citizens.
That could lead to scenarios where restaurants or bars require proof of vaccination from customers seeking a glass of wine or see travel companies barring the nonvaccinated from accessing their services.
Tech companies such as IBM are developing digital vaccine passports or mobile wallets for test results.
Von der Leyen told the EU parliament on Thursday that there were concerns over vaccine unknowns, such as whether those inoculated could still carry and transmit the coronavirus and how long protection lasts.
“And then the political question,” she added. “How do you ensure that you respect the rights of those who have not had access to a vaccine, and what alternatives do you offer to those who have legitimate reasons for not getting the vaccine?”
Worries about balancing the need to reopen borders with the fairness of allowing those inoculated to trot the world while others continue to endure lockdown and the risk of infection were expressed earlier this month by the World Health Organization.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general, said last week he was skeptical about the divisive effect vaccine passports could have.
“One theme ties both issues together: solidarity. We cannot afford to prioritize or punish certain groups or countries.
‘Too early’ to book
Glastonbury 2021 has already been canceled.
Matt Cardy/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Such inequalities, of course, have already been a feature of current travel restrictions.
But, even as the debate continues on how to implement, control and apply immunity certification — if at all — the issue may remain moot for those hoping to plan a summer 2021 getaway.
In the UK, the first country to begin vaccinations, infection rates are continuing to gallop despite enhanced restrictions in place since late December, prompting government officials to warn that international vacations remain uncertain this summer.
Matt Hancock, UK health minister, said on Monday that it was “too early” to book travel before September, by which time the majority of the population should be vaccinated. He advised UK citizens to plan, instead, for a vacation on home soil.
CNN’s James Frater contributed to this story