What Vaccine Certificates and Health Passports Mean for Travel

Experts have long cited vaccines as the key to travel resuming. This prediction has since proven correct as domestic travel rebounds to levels not seen since pre-pandemic. For international travel to follow suit though, a further step is needed: a way to display proof of vaccination to allow travelers to cross borders freely once again.

Various countries have announced plans to reopen to fully immunized travelers, but there is not yet a consistent standard for evaluating who qualifies and what form immunization paperwork will be required. In order to help you understand what this means for your travel program we’ve broken down vaccine certificates versus health passports and the impact they may have on your corporate travel program.

Vaccine Certificates

If you have not yet been vaccinated, you’ve likely still seen the images on social media of masked up individuals proudly displaying postcard-sized white cards. These small cards are vaccine certificates, logging the vaccine manufacturer and batch number, the dates each shot was given, and where it was administered.

Due to privacy concerns, there is currently no centralized database in the U.S. for storing this information. Complicating matters, states and providers may opt to use different certificate formats than those designed by the CDC. Similarly in Canada, individual provinces are responsible for determining how vaccinations are tracked and recorded.

For travelers, this means that certificates should be protected just as closely as a birth certificate, passport, or other forms of identification that are not easily replaced. While some have suggested laminating certificates, a better solution that poses no risk to altering the certificate is to keep it in a protective sleeve akin to a passport case. This also eliminates concerns if a future booster shot is required and needs to be recorded.

Travelers visiting countries with vaccination requirements for entry will likely be expected to carry their certificate with them and present it to immigration upon arrival. Each country may have their own standards regarding what is deemed as an acceptable form of vaccine certificate. For instance, Iceland requires the certificate be issued in specific languages (Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, English, or French). Other languages will only be accepted if submitted with a certified translation.

Because these restrictions can change, we recommend travelers on the go use the Direct2U mobile app to verify current requirements using Sherpa intelligence. When planning your trip, you can also access Sherpa on our Traveler Information Hub.

Health Passports

In response to the limitations of vaccine certificates, both those in the private sector and select governments are leading the development of “health passports” to create a consistent and verifiable way to digitally display immunization records. In addition to displaying vaccination records, many of these passports also store recent COVID-19 test results.

Domestically, authorities have stated that it will not be the role of the federal government to roll out health passports or require vaccine mandates. This varies from individual states, some of which have begin to develop their own systems. New York recently launched the nation’s first health passport, allowing residents to pull up a QR code on their mobile devices and display proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test. This is similar to an initiative under development by the European Commission, which aims to facilitate free movement within the EU. 

The private sector has proposed their own solutions, including technology created and championed by the likes of Wal-Mart and IBM. One of the most notable passports, CommonPass from the World Economic Forum and the Commons Project, has the support of dozens of travel partners and providers, including Amadeus, Clear, and United Airlines. In Canada, existing programs like CANImmunize have been updated to store and display COVID-19 vaccination records.

Just like vaccine certificates, health passports are subject to the restrictions and scrutiny of the countries business travelers are visiting. So while one health passport may be acceptable as proof of vaccination or testing for one airline or destination, it may not meet the standards of another. We recommend organizations work with their travel management company (TMC) to ensure solutions that work for their travelers’ needs and also meet established business goals.

What’s Next?

While health passports present the most robust and accessible option for the future, most are not yet widely available and there is always the challenge of wide scale adoption. For the time being, a vaccine certificate remains the simplest and most accepted method for travelers to display their proof of immunization and avoid the outcome of traveler quarantine. As travel continues to rebound and vaccination rates increase on a global scale, greater advancement in technology and consistency will likely follow.

To prepare your travelers for this next stage, work with Direct Travel as your TMC to formulate your plans for resuming travel and to incorporate vaccination expectations into your travel policy. Some businesses are strongly encouraging employees to get vaccinated in order to travel, while others are explicitly requiring it unless a medical exemption is provided. We can help you create a plan and update your policy to match in a way that meets your organization’s unique goals and travel needs—contact us to get started.