Vaccine passports: How to prove you've gotten your COVID-19 shots for travel and avoid scams

Beth Marcus wants a vaccine passport. She’s had both of her shots but can’t prove it. Unless she can, she’s afraid she may not be allowed to visit Europe.

How do you get a vaccine passport?

The clinic where she received her shots issued a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – a small, white paper card where she recorded both her vaccinations. Marcus, a retired finance worker from Frederick, Maryland, took a picture of the card, so she could show it to anyone who asks. She suspects it’s not enough.

“I would like more substantial proof,” she says.

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Vaccine passports: How to prove you've gotten your COVID-19 shots for travel and avoid scams

Israel and Europe have taken the lead on developing a secure digital immunity certification. You may be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine passport by enrolling in one of the tests underway. In the meantime, you have a few imperfect options for showing you received your shots.

What is a vaccine passport? How would it work for travel?

“There’s no vaccine passport in the United States,” says Peter Vlitas, senior vice president of airline relations for Internova Travel Group. But we’re close. The most promising one is the IATA Travel Pass. It’s being tested among 22 airlines, and the airline trade organization expects to release it this month. It will be limited to air travel and border crossings.

Vaccine passports: The documents should be free, private and secure, White House says, but who will issue them?

TripActions’ app-based health passport, a private initiative that launches early next month, will allow travelers to upload and store all necessary documentation required for domestic and international travel within a centralized hub.

The only vaccine passport in widespread use is Israel’s Green Pass. The certificate, available as either a smartphone app or paper ID using a QR code for authentication, allows users to prove their vaccine status in Israel. Passholders use their credentials to visit the gym, pool, restaurant or participate in any other activity previously restricted because of COVID-19. Only Israeli residents qualify for a Green Pass, but Israel is in discussions with other countries to have the passes accepted outside the country, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

The European Union is developing a Digital Green Certificate to prove people have had their shots and “facilitate safe free movement” inside the EU during the pandemic. The vaccine ID, which is likely to be available by June, will be available in digital or paper format.

In the USA, airlines have been pushing the government to create a vaccine passport for Americans, saying verifiable testing of vaccination data is “critical to the return of travel.”

New York launched a version of a vaccine passport. The first-in-the-nation certification, called the Excelsior Pass, will be accepted at dozens of event, arts and entertainment venues statewide.

Patchwork problems: Airlines ask White House to develop standardized COVID-19 travel ‘passports’

There are so many vaccine passport proposals that it’s almost impossible to track all of them, but they all have one thing in common: They are not officially recognized, at least for now.

What should travelers do?

“There’s a rush to deliver a digital vaccine passport solution, as many countries will make it mandatory to have proof of vaccinations and actively court vaccinated travelers,” says Rajeev Shrivastava, CEO of VisitorsCoverage.

How do you prove you’re vaccinated? Here are your options:

Think about laminating your COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card

That’s what Paula Miller and her husband did.

“We felt that they would hold up better when we need to present them while traveling domestically or internationally,” says Miller, a retired teacher from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

Like Marcus, she’d prefer the real thing.

“We have flights to Paris scheduled for November,” she says. “I hope that issue is resolved by then.”

The biggest problem with lamination: The document isn’t secure. (You can buy a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card online for about $20 and fill it in yourself.) If boosters are needed, a laminated card might be a problem. But until we have a vaccine passport, this may have to do.

Fill in your WHO Yellow Card

If you received shots for a previous international trip, you have a World Health Organization (WHO) Yellow Card (International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis). “The Yellow Card has been the de facto standard for proving international vaccination compliance for decades,” says Warren Jaferian, the dean for Endicott College’s Office of International Education in Beverly, Massachusetts.

I have a Yellow Card from previous trips, and when I received my shots, I asked the clinic to record the vaccines. I had to ask a supervisor, but he did. There are two issues with the Yellow Card. They are scarce (some have reported they’re unavailable), and they are not secure. An e-Yellow Card is reportedly under development.

Fly on a Travel Pass airline

If you can book a ticket on one of the airlines testing the IATA Travel Pass, you may be able to access the IATA vaccine passport. Those carriers include Virgin Atlantic, Japan’s ANA, Emirates and Singapore Airlines. Travel Pass is still being evaluated, so there’s no assurance that your digital passport will work on your next flight or that it will be accepted anywhere.

Until there’s a real vaccine passport, you’ll need to get creative. Marcus, who plans to visit the Baltics next year, created her own makeshift vaccine ID.

“I made a color copy of the original and had it laminated at Staples,” she says. “I didn’t laminate the original because I want it to be possible for boosters, if needed, to be recorded on the same document.”

She hopes it will work. Timing is everything when it comes to certifying vaccination. At the rate things are going, the pandemic will end before America has a real vaccine passport.

Avoid these vaccine passport traps

Don’t pay for it. A legitimate vaccine ID is free. Both the Israeli and proposed European version cost nothing. There are some unofficial vaccine IDs in the USA that make you pay for certification. They are not legit.

Make sure it’s secure. You can buy a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card or a World Health Organization Yellow Card online and fill it out. But it’s not a secure record of your vaccination, and it probably won’t work when the real thing comes along. Avoid any vaccine passport that doesn’t have a QR code or a way to authenticate your vaccine status securely.

Find out if it’s accepted. Several cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, Virgin Voyages, Crystal Cruises and American Cruise Lines, announced they will begin to require proof of vaccination for passengers (at least on some of their voyages), though they haven’t specified which records will be accepted. Your travel adviser can tell you what type of proof will be accepted by the cruise line. Don’t take chances – get the right vaccine passport, or you could be left high and dry.

COVID-19 vaccine tracker:How many people have been vaccinated in the US?

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