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Airline industry pushes 'digital passport' to track whether you have COVID-19 vaccine before flying


'I think it will be a common theme, talking to my colleagues in other airlines across the world'

Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Once the coronavirus vaccine is widely distributed, you may not be able to fly on commercial airlines without first having been inoculated if some in the airline industry have their way.

The news comes as the first doses of vaccine will likely be distributed this month, as multiple pharmaceutical manufactures have announced effective vaccines.

What are the details?

Airline industry leaders are reportedly exploring the implementation of a "digital passport," which would provide airlines with health information on passengers, including whether they have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

The International Air Transport Association announced last week that it is in the final stages of developing what it hopes is "universally accepted documentation" to track passenger health information, The Hill reported.

The so-called "travel pass" will "manage and verify the secure flow of necessary testing or vaccine information among governments, airlines, laboratories and travelers," the IATA said in an announcement.

"Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures. The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with traveler identities in compliance with border control requirements," IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac said.

IATA senior vice president Nick Careen added, "Our main priority is to get people traveling again safely. In the immediate term that means giving governments confidence that systematic COVID-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements. And that will eventually develop into a vaccine program."

What are airlines doing?

At least one airline, Australian-based Qantas Airways, has said it will require passengers to prove their COVID-19 vaccination before traveling internationally.

"Whether you need that domestically, we will have to see what happens with COVID-19 in the market. But certainly, for international visitors coming out and people leaving the country, we think that's a necessity," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce explained.

In fact, Joyce predicted that vaccination requirements will be commonplace in the entire industry.

"I think it will be a common theme, talking to my colleagues in other airlines across the world," he said.

Are there dangers with digital passports?

Privacy International, the London-based privacy rights advocacy organization, is warning about the dangers of digital passports.

"Proponents of immunity passports do not yet know the extent of the problem they are solving," the organization warns. "Companies selling their pre-existing digital identity solutions should be viewed with suspicion; this is not a problem that has been 'solved' as we have yet to define what the problem is."

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