Let’s face it. We’re all ready to start getting back to some form of the old “normal.” COVID-19 has been restricting us for over a year and, now that almost 3 million Americans a day are getting vaccination shots, we’re ready to travel, get together in larger groups, squeeze into concerts, eat inside a restaurant and maybe take a cruise. In fact, last week Royal Caribbean has announced on May 1 it will launch its first cruise with all guests and crew required to be “fully vaccinated.” As more people are inoculated, there will likely be aspects of public life in which only people who have been vaccinated are allowed to participate.
To facilitate our new post-pandemic world, your “Virus Passport” may not be far away. This would be a document proving that you have been vaccinated against COVID-19. There are versions being developed by airlines, industry groups, and technology companies. The Virus Passport (“VP”) could be an app or part of your digital wallet. Fodor’s, the global travel company, recently indicated that “the growing acceptance of VPs indicates that there will be some form of these used in the coming months to enable recovery, open economies and get people moving again.”
U.S. airlines are still losing $150 million per day. Even in 2021, flights are 60% down from 2019. The U.S. travel industry lost over $150 billion in 2020. Businesses that depend on tourist dollars are counting on widespread vaccinations to boost travel. Denmark may be one of the first countries with a VP for travel that will be available on a mobile phone. Sweden is working on a VP, available in June, to help its citizens travel abroad. Travel groups are launching their versions of a VP.
However, a VP can be much more than simply qualifying you for travel.
Israel, where 50% of its 9 million citizens are already vaccinated, is launching its “Green Pass” that offers exclusive benefits (access to gyms, hotels, theatres, etc.) for those fully vaccinated. IBM has been developing its own “Digital Health Pass” that would enable individuals to present proof of vaccination or a negative test to gain access to public locations, such as a sports stadium, flights, the university or the workplace. As a “seamless integration into airlines, hotels and public systems,” IBM is confident its VP app will offer collaboration. Furthermore, IBM plans to have this health credential included in your encrypted digital wallet- so you “control what you share, with whom and for what purpose.”
Airline and businesses are pressing the U.S. to take the lead in VP development. With so many VPs coming out, it’s crucial to establish uniform guidance and hopefully the US will be at the forefront. On Monday, more than two dozen groups sent a letter to the White House coronavirus response coordinator to ask the CDC to take a leading role to make sure that standards are set for VPs and the credentials are legitimate. They also want to have the CDC do its best to make sure VPs are designed to not perpetuate discrimination and inequality, ensure the privacy of health information, and provide standardization.
Many of us are familiar with the concept of “carrot and stick” which is a metaphor for the use of a combination of reward and punishment to induce a desired behavior. It seems that our worldwide effort to defeat COVID is turning from a “stick” approach to a “carrot.” For a year, we’ve been asked/encouraged/required to wear a mask, social distance, etc. Now, the Vaccine Passport is becoming a “carrot,” rewarding those who have been inoculated with access to the lives we used to live. Feels good. Personally, I respond better to a carrot than a stick.