What is a vaccine passport, and why do Biden and 20 states oppose it?

As nations around the world move to reopen following the 14-month-long COVID-19 pandemic, a debate is brewing over whether international travelers will need to prove they have gotten a vaccination against the virus if they want to enter another country.

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In the United States, the discussion about “vaccine passports” continues as well, but here it has gone to the state level with some 20 U.S. governors announcing their opposition to any requirement that Americans prove their vaccination status while traveling within their own country.

According to a story from The Associated Press, the European Union, some Asian governments and more than 20 major airlines are already working on some sort of vaccination passport system that would help kickstart international travel. How any international system would work is still up in the air.

And while the Biden administration has acknowledged the need for a secure documentation system that would provide proof of a person’s vaccination status, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the federal government won’t be the one to provide it.

“The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential. There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential,” Psaki told reporters at a briefing in early April.

The Biden administration is, however, working with nonprofits and tech firms to develop standards for people to prove they’ve gotten the vaccine, two administration officials told CNN.

Here is what we know about vaccine passports, how they may come about and why 20 states have said no to requiring them.

What is a COVID-19 vaccine passport?

A vaccine passport is a form – either paper or digital – that certifies a person has received a COVID-19 vaccination.

It may be as simple as presenting your vaccination card, but is more likely to require some ability to check a database that houses vaccine information.

A vaccine passport is not new, and most countries require proof of vaccination against other viruses before allowing travelers into their country.

How would it work?

It depends on the country or the entity requiring the passport.

In general, the passports are expected to be free and available through smartphone applications. Those without smartphones would be able to print out the passports.

According to Afar, a travel media brand, the European Commission is considering issuing a “Digital Green Certificate” to EU residents that would show proof they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, have tested negative for the virus or have recovered from it.

EU leaders have said the certificate would not be mandatory for travel by EU citizens traveling within the EU, though.

“Being vaccinated will not be a precondition to travel,” the European Commission said.

“All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU, and this applies regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not.

“The Digital Green Certificate will make it easier to exercise that right, also through testing and recovery certificates.”

The International Air Transport Association, a trade group that represents 290 airlines worldwide, says 23 airlines are testing Travel Pass, an app developed by IATA that would let users upload documentation to prove vaccination status.

Israel has been using a “Green Pass,” which is available to citizens who have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19. The pass allows the person to enter a variety of businesses and venues.

However, this week, Israeli officials announced that the passport would be discontinued on June 1 as restaurants, sports stadiums and other venues open back up.

Will a vaccine passport be required to travel within the U.S.?

So far, 20 states have either banned vaccine passports or are considering banning them. The week alone, Alabama Gov. Kaye Ivey signed an order that bans the state government from requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccination, as did Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Kemp cited an intrusion into personal medical information as one of the reasons he opposes the passports.

“While I continue to urge all Georgians to get vaccinated so we continue our momentum of putting the Covid-19 pandemic in the rearview, vaccination is a personal decision between each citizen and a medical professional — not the state government,” Kemp said in a statement.

The order bans officials from requiring proof of vaccination to travel to Georgia, in addition to barring official immunization records from being shared to create a vaccine passport program.

A majority of the governors opposing vaccine bans are Republicans. New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, approved the nation’s first vaccine passport, called the Excelsior Pass. It is free and voluntary.

An attempt to ban the creation of vaccine passports and punish businesses that would require one failed in Arizona.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not commented directly on vaccine passports, but released guidance last week saying that if a person is fully vaccinated they can safely resume non-essential travel within the U.S.

According to a poll conducted by Yahoo News/YouGov in early April, a majority of Democrats surveyed favored vaccine passports in nearly every situation – 53% for indoor drinking and dining and 77% for international travel.

Republicans surveyed oppose the restrictions, with 48% against vaccine passports for international travel and 65% against it for indoor drinking and dining.

The survey included 1,649 U.S. adults, and was conducted from April 6 to April 8.

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