Q&A: What is a vaccine passport and can I get one?

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is to present the idea of a vaccine passport in a few weeks time – but are we likely to see one here and will it mean we can travel abroad again?
Q&A: What is a vaccine passport and can I get one?

The European Commission will discuss the idea of a digital travel pass to boost tourism and work travel later this month. It could be introduced by July. Picture: Dublin Airport Authority

WHAT IS A VACCINE PASSPORT?

The European Commission will discuss the idea of a digital travel pass to boost tourism and work travel later this month. It could be introduced by July.

Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said it would include proof of vaccination, results of Covid-19 tests and advice on recovery from Covid-19. 

This could be a Q-code stored on your smartphone, or printed out in paper-form. Travellers would show this to transport and customs officials.

WILL I BE ABLE TO GET ONE?

All member-states in the EU would need to buy into this if it is to work, so an “all for one, one for all” approach would be needed.

But Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said recently: “The vaccine passports yet don’t stack up scientifically or medically because we just don’t know at this stage what extent vaccines reduce transmission.” 

And speaking on Monday, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn would only commit to consideration of any new proposals for now.

Plans for the Irish vaccine roll-out are for 80% of the population to have their first shot by June, with only some groups fully vaccinated. This would not indicate a summer filled with foreign travel, he said.

WHAT DOES THE REST OF THE EU THINK?

The idea was greeted with enthusiasm in Greece and Spain, where tourism usually makes up a significant proportion of state income.

Greece and Cyprus have already signed a bi-lateral travel deal with Israel, where 37% of the population are fully vaccinated. Vaccine certificates are in use there.

In Germany, a government survey found one in three are against it but support increased if it is only brought in after everyone is vaccinated. Like Ireland, they are aiming for late September for this.

The French health minister said it was far too early to discuss this passport, and he also cautioned about the ability of the vaccines to stop transmission.

Britain, no longer a member of the EU, is to review the prospect – but prime minister Boris Johnson has raised ethical concerns about whether pubs and restaurants could demand proof of vaccination for people to be admitted.

BUT I WANT TO GO ABROAD – WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?

Free movement has been a central part of the EU but the last 12 months have seen pressure on this. Some observers see a vaccine passport as a threat to the right to travel.

It could be a back-door into mandatory vaccination, which Ireland does not have for strong ethical reasons. In their proposed format, they share a lot of personal information, unlike older vaccine certificates. 

And if you need a vaccine passport to sit on a plane to Barcelona, then why not to sit in a cinema or a theatre?

Some companies may see this as a way to reassure customers they are safe and choose to apply the travel rules to limit entry. 

Others warn it could create a hierarchy, blocking countries with low vaccination rates from travel.

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