What Is a Vaccine Passport?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 03, 2023
1 min read

A vaccine passport is proof that you’ve tested negative for or been protected against certain infections. It can be digital, like a phone app, or physical, such as a small paper card. You can carry it with you and show it if required, like before you go into the office, board an airplane, or visit a restaurant, movie theater, or gym.

The availability of vaccines during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the idea of implementing a vaccine passport system. The concept was that an official registry of who was vaccinated would allow companies to fully open for business to anyone who shows proof of vaccination, thus helping to boost economies while limiting the spread of the disease.

It was a new play on an old idea. For years, people who’ve traveled to certain areas of the world have needed to show papers -- or a medical passport called a yellow card, created by the World Health Organization (WHO) -- to prove that they’ve gotten vaccines against diseases like yellow fever, cholera, and rubella.

Proof of a COVID-19 vaccination has now been added to that list for some countries. While many businesses at one point required proof of vaccination for employees and customers, and some countries banned those who were unvaccinated against the coronavirus, much of that monitoring has eased.

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The Washington Post: “What Are Vaccine Passports and How Would They Work?” “What you need to know about vaccine passports,” “Europe debates vaccine passports as a way to save summer tourism.”

The New York Times: “Coming Soon: The ‘Vaccine Passport,’” “Vaccine Passports, Covid’s Next Political Flash Point.”

Reuters: “China launches COVID-19 vaccination certificates for cross-border travel.”

The Times of Israel: “Government launches Green Pass for vaccinated, warns fraudsters will be jailed.”

France 24: “China introduces world's first 'virus passport' programme.”

Politico: “World moves to embrace vaccine passports. Trudeau's not so sure.”

CNET: “COVID-19 vaccine passport for travel: What it is, how it works, who is pushing for it.”

The Royal Society: “Twelve criteria for the development and use of COVID-19 vaccine passports.”

World Health Organization: “Interim position paper: considerations regarding proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travellers.”

Bahrain eGovernment: “BeAware Bahrain.”

International Air Transport Association: “IATA Travel Pass Initiative.”

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