What is a vaccine passport and do I need one for my next holiday?

There’s one phrase in the travel community that I’m just hearing more and more as the weeks go by.

“Vaccine passport”.

So let’s take a deep dive on what a vaccine passport is and ask the question we all want to know – will you need a vaccine passport for your next holiday?

Vaccine on smartphone

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The good news is that not all of this is super complicated, it’s just that there’s a lot of information out there. What I’ve tried to do here is just put it in one place for you

I’ve done my best to check and provide sources but as always, please do double check anything stated here before acting on it.

To help you navigate this, you can easily find the answer you’re looking for by simply clicking on the relevant point below – or, make yourself a brew and get ready to scroll!

What is a vaccine passport?

A vaccine passport is something that will provide proof that an individual has received a vaccine. In this case, for Covid-19. 

Already, there are several names being used for this including ‘immunity passport’, ‘health passport’ and ‘Covid passport’ – though some of these may refer to something that will also show antibody or negative Covid-19 tests.

What will a vaccine passport look like?

Whilst the word ‘passport’ makes us think of a physical booklet, it is possible that the passport will be biometric and accessed using an app. Several of these are already in development but we have not had a confirmation yet about how they will work for UK travellers – if at all.

Who gets a vaccine passport and how much will it cost?

In theory, a vaccine passport will be available to anyone who has had a vaccine for Covid-19. There was some initial discussion about having to request them from our GPs which could cost around £30, but as the UK government looks to get a digital passport in place, it could be that an app is free to download. But again, with a lack of solid details, we can’t confirm that 100% at this stage.

Will children need a vaccine passport?

Without a firm plan, it’s difficult to know if and at what age there will be a cut off for children however, if children of a certain age aren’t expected to be vaccinated at all, it feels like it would be very unfair to then say they couldn’t travel because of it!

For context, the UK currently asks all travellers to present a negative Covid-19 test when entering the country and at present, children under 11 are exempt from this.

Of course, this does not mean that the vaccine passport will be the same but gives you an idea of how the government has operated in similar areas.

Father holding child at the beach

Will I need 1 or 2 doses to get a vaccine passport?

Currently, we don’t know the details of how our vaccine passport system will work and we will hopefully get more details on this on 12th April 2021 when the Global Travel Taskforce will report back on how we’ll be opening up international travel.

However, for the most part, it’s being reported that a vaccine passport will be for those who have had 2 doses and I personally wouldn’t bank on accessing any of the perks after just one dose.

I’ll keep you updated on here, and on my Instagram.

How do I apply to get a vaccine passport?

Whilst there’s been a lot of discussion about vaccine passports in the travel industry already, we are very much still in the planning and trialling stages. Therefore, we do not know yet how they will roll out and there is currently no application process in motion.

A date to have in your diaries is 12th April 2021 which is when the Global Travel Taskforce will report back on how we will be able to open up international travel – perhaps as early as 17th May 2021. I expect to hear some more details about how vaccine passports will work then.

Can I pay to get a vaccine passport privately?

Well, the question is more – can you pay to get a vaccine since the it seems like the vaccine passport itself will be free.

The answer in the UK is currently no. The government website states – ‘The Covid-19 vaccination is only available through the NHS to eligible groups and it is a free vaccination’.

However, there are options if you’re willing to shell out £25,000 a year for a private club that will fly you to Dubai or India and have it done privately there.

I take it that’s a no then…

Dubai Skyline

What work has started on vaccine passports already?

After a lot of going back and forth over the issue, the UK government have confirmed that they’re looking into vaccine passports as an option for opening up international travel.

It’s important to note that past reluctance to embrace vaccine passports – as seen from Vaccine Minisiter Nadhim Zahawi – could have been in relation to having vaccine passports for domestic activities, such as going to work, or going to the pub.

I expect that we will next get an update on how this will work on 12th April 2021 when the Global Travel Taskforce will report back on how they hope to reopen international travel. This will be delivered by Transport Minister, Grant Shapps.

Elsewhere, The Commons Project and The World Economic Forum are currently trialling their CommonPass which they hope could be used across the world to prove health data. They hope to use QR codes within an app which can be easily checked by officials.

Airlines and transport bodies are also developing their own passports. For example, Emirates became one of the first airlines to trial the IATA Travel Pass.

IATA Travel Pass

There’s more going on than just this – but I hope this shows that cogs are certainly turning. What will be interesting to see is how these different passports will work together or, if one will usurp the others and become the go to for travellers across the globe.

What are the advantages of a vaccine passport?

Vaccine passports have been a popular concept with the travel industry for the hope they offer – a chance to make travel safer and to bring desperately needed funds to travel companies.

From the safety aspect – whilst we still do not know if all vaccines prevent people from spreading Covid-19 – an obvious advantage is that those travelling will not catch the virus.

As for the needed boost to the travel industry, many have stressed the need of vaccine passports to get the world moving again.

One of these is The International Air Transport Association (IATA) who have called on the EU to support a ‘Common European Digital Vaccination Certificate’ which would give ‘passengers the confidence to fly without the barrier of quarantine’.

As well as allowing people to holiday again, it also means that individuals will find it easier to travel for business and ultimately, there are many benefits to opening travel links back up in terms of the transit of goods and the economy.

Lastly, with plans to vaccinate already in full motion here in the UK, a big advantage is that you would no longer be expected to pay for negative tests before and after your holiday, thus cutting your costs when going away. It’s also expected that you wouldn’t have to quarantine.

Two women staring out across view at Yosemite

What are the disadvantages of a vaccine passport?

The big question at the moment is whether or not the vaccine stops or even lessens the chance of those who’ve had it from spreading Covid-19. There have already been some encouraging studies that do show that the vaccine cuts transmission, yet it is not a 100% guarantee. Therefore, a disadvantage of vaccine passports is that it could lead to further spreading.

Another obvious disadvantage is that for those who haven’t had the vaccine yet or cannot due to health reasons or choice, they could be discriminated against.

Now, it could be that individuals may still be able to travel if they present negative Covid-19 tests – as we do at the moment – which countries like Greece and Portugal have already stated. Yet, this may not be the policy for all countries.

However, the EU has insisted that the jab will remain voluntary in an effort to ease fears from citizens who cannot or do not want to have the vaccine. It will be interesting to see how the UK addresses this, since we’re not in the EU anymore.

Lastly, there are concerns around privacy – and also just how we will be able to coordinate this with other countries around the world.

Man on plane with face mask

How likely is it that we'll need a vaccine passport to go on holiday in 2021?

As mentioned above, we’re very much in the planning and trialling stages now so nothing is certain. However, it definitely feels like there’s enough of discussion about them that they may well be a part of our future. Even if not here in the UK, then perhaps in destinations that we’ll be hoping to visit – or with companies we hope to spend our money with.

As things stand, I don’t expect to see them imminently in the UK and I’m looking to 12th April 2021 as the date we’ll hear more about them from the Global Travel Taskforce under Transport Minister, Grant Shapps.

What airlines support a vaccine passport?

The first company to bring about this discussion of only accepting vaccinated passengers was Australian airline Qantas. Back in November 2020, their CEO Alan Joyce said that they would be ‘a necessity‘.

Yet, other airlines did not echo the same message at the time and in fact Ryanair’s CEO, Michael O’Leary, responded saying that “you will not require vaccines to travel on short-haul flights between Ireland and the UK or between the UK and Spain, Portugal or Greece next year”.

However, since then several airlines have begun developing their own vaccine/health passports though some of these are initially to show negative Covid-19 test results which are currently needed for travel.

JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss International Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic all joined the CommonTrust Network back in November 2020 which uses the CommonPass developed by the Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum. Again, their initial use is to show negative Covid-19 results but could well include vaccine data in the future.

On 19th January 2021, Emirates became one of the first airlines to trial the IATA Travel Pass which is a digital platform for Covid-19 updates and test verification.

IATA is also working with IAG who represents Aer Lingus, British Airways, Iberia, Level and Vueling on its new Travel Pass too.

So, whilst there isn’t a specific vaccine passport just yet, the framework is already being put in place and it feels like airlines are getting ready for that being a possibility.

What travel companies support a vaccine passport?

So, as well as airlines getting ready for vaccine passports – or, like Qantas, even going as far to say you will have to be vaccinated to board their flights in the future – travel companies may look to making vaccination mandatory as well.

We’ve already seen this happen with Saga Holidays, who offer holidays and cruises and cater towards the over 50s crowd here in the UK. 

On 20th January 2021, they said that anyone going on a Saga holiday or cruise in 2021 would have to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

With their current holidays paused until May, it lines up with the fact that we don’t expect to see vaccine passports immediately emerge, but this does show how strict some companies may become when it comes to making vaccines a must.

Could this be start of other companies doing the same?

Two Saga Cruises Liners
CREDIT: Saga Cruises

What countries support a vaccine passport?

There’s already been some countries that have shown their support of vaccine passports.

The Seychelles have stormed ahead and have already reopened to visitors who have had two doses of the vaccine. Travellers must prove that two weeks have passed since their second dose and also show proof of a negative Covid-19 PCR test. However, with no formal ‘vaccine passport’ yet in place, they haven’t confirmed what counts as ‘proof’.

As for Europe, on 18th January 2021, Romania became the first European country to confirm that vaccinated passengers are no longer required to quarantine on arrival.

As for elsewhere, there have been other countries that have shown their support.

In December 2020, Cyprus announced that they planned on waiving testing requirements for vaccinated travellers though there is yet to be a confirmation about when this will go ahead. 

In March 2021, they confirmed more details on this.

Cyprus beach

In January 2021, Greece‘s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, wrote to the European commission president in support of a vaccine passport programme that will allow people who have had the Covid-19 vaccine to travel freely around Europe.

Spain also called for a similar scheme for travellers, however, this issue is expected to be hotly debated by other EU states.

Other countries that have stated that they are considering a vaccine passport – or something similar – include UAE, Israel, Estonia, Denmark, Poland, Hungary and Belgium. You can read more about the details of each here.

Does the UK support a vaccine passport?

Yes – the UK government, lead by Transport Minister Grant Shapps, are currently looking into vaccine passports but it’s fair to say they haven’t always been so open about it.

So, that’s the short answer, but if you fancy seeing how the issue has developed, scroll on!

Houses of Parliament

Now, if you’re glutton for punishment – LIKE ME WHO SPENT HOURS READING INTO THIS – here’s the full lowdown on just how much of a confusing mess this all is here in the UK.

On 1st December 2020, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told the BBC that there were no plans to introduce a vaccine passport. Yet, Nadhim Zahawi – the new health minister appointed to oversee the vaccine rollout in England – stated that they were ‘looking into the technology’ around ‘immunity passports’.

A week later, several media outlets described the new NHS Covid-19 vaccination card as a ‘vaccine passport’ but that was incorrect – the card doesn’t contain secure personal information and so it cannot prove who was vaccinated.

vaccine against a blue background

Later on that week, Nadhim Zahawi denied the UK’s intention to use them, saying “absolutely categorically we are not going down the route of a vaccine passport and I’m on record saying that”. This was in an interview with the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald.

The paper went on to question the fact that on 18th December 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care published details of a contract worth £34 million to ‘develop a negative Covid-19 test certificate minimum viable product’.

However, the contract details the aim to create a negative test result certification app, not a vaccine passport and so this does still line up with what Nadhim Zahawi last stated.

Are you still keeping up?!!

Let’s fast forward to January 2021.

2021 spelled out in facemasks

On 12th Jan 2020, The Telegraph reported that the UK were planning to trial a vaccine passport developed by biometrics firm iProov and cybersecurity firm Mvine. They stated that the trial would be taking that same month.

However, that same day, Nadhim Zahawi responded to the article on Twitter saying there were “no plans to introduce vaccine passports” and “no one has been given or will be required to have a vaccine passport”.

A spokesperson from the Department of Health Social Care explained the reasoning by stating “At this stage of the vaccination programme, it is not clear whether vaccines will prevent transmission”.

Twelve days later, The Telegraph reported that the government are funding ‘eight vaccine passport schemes despite ‘no plans’ for rollout‘. They accessed this information through transparency documents from innovation agency InnovateUK. 

When this £450,000 funding was brought up by the BBC’s Andrew Marr to Health Minister, Matt Hancock on 24th January 2021, he didn’t deny their purpose – even after Andrew Marr linked them to vaccine passports. He stated ‘there is a question for how, in the medium term, we allow for international travel as safely as possible’.

However, he then went onto say ‘I’m not attracted to the idea of vaccine passports here at home, we’re not a papers carrying country’.

For me, this was really interesting because he hasn’t outright denied it like what has been done in the past and in addition, he’s only said he’s not attracted to the idea of them ‘here at home‘.

At the time, I wondered whether this showed signs of another infamous u-turn and… I was right.

On 10th February 2021, Transport Minister Grant Shapps confirmed that vaccine passports were indeed on their way.

We expect an update on how these could work on 12th April 2021 when the Global Travel Taskforce will report back on how the UK will reopen to international travel.

(If you made it through this passage – god bless ya).

Will I need a vaccine passport to go on holiday in the UK?

I don’t think so.

As mentioned just above this question, when being questioned on vaccine passports, Matt Hancock most recently stated that he wasn’t attracted to the idea of them ‘here at home’ which to me marks that we may not have to use them to travel around the UK.

But, knowing the past workings of the UK government, who knows what may happen!!!

Scotland Castle

Will I still be allowed to travel if I haven't got a vaccine passport?

As mentioned in the disadvantages, the huge sticking point around vaccine passports is that it means a huge portion of the population will be left without options.

The good news is that countries such as Greece and Portugal have already said that they will allow UK tourists to enter that haven’t been vaccinated, as long as they’ve taken the necessary tests needed to enter.

The best way to check on the entry requirements of a country is to search for their name followed by ‘FCDO’, so for example ‘Greece FCDO‘. This will bring up the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office page for that country. You then just need to click on ‘Entry Requirements‘ and it will list what is needed though sign up for updates, as it can change!

White house in Greece

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all countries will follow this course but for countries that rely on British tourism, I think we can expect to see more options than just having a vaccine passport.

How do I stay updated with vaccine passport news?

As and when they get introduced in the UK, it will be big news and you can expect it to filter through into the main news bulletins that you’ll see on your TV, in newspapers and online.

However, if you want to be kept across the development of this, why not come and follow me on Instagram where I use my stories to post updates on all things travel related.

Has that helped you get up to date?

I really hope so because I’m not gonna lie, it took a WHILE for me to bring that all together! I cannot wait for travel to be far more straight forward.

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