What are digital vaccine passports and how do you get one?

Apr 29, 2021

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.


As the vaccine is rolled out across the U.K., it seems there is light at the end of the tunnel.

The U.K. has been in a third national lockdown since 5 January, but we’re getting closer to the end. Shops and outdoor dining have been open since 12 April, and now we’re waiting on word from the government that hotels and hostels can reopen from 17 May at the earliest. Hopefully, all remaining restrictions will be lifted by 21 June at the earliest.

Though this news is promising, international travel will struggle to return to normal until the population is inoculated.

According to the government, more than 33 million people in the U.K. have now had their first coronavirus vaccine. The government has distributed more than 47 million total doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and it says it’s still on track to offer all adults a first dose by late July.

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(Photo by CasPhotography/Getty Images)

The vaccine is a clear way out of the pandemic and in order to allow travel to restart, both closer to home and abroad, a digital vaccine passport scheme is going to be rolled out here in the U.K.

Here’s all you need to know about them.

What is a digital vaccine passport?

There’s no set definition of a vaccine passport, rather a concept. Simply put, it’s “evidence of your vaccination status in a form that will be accepted by your destination country or region to remove or reduce barriers to travel,” according to the Independent.

When implemented, it will allow people to prove their vaccination status and potentially travel abroad, depending on if the arrival country will consider it sufficient evidence for entering its borders.

More than that, many digital vaccine passports will allow those who haven’t yet been vaccinated to upload the results of a recent COVID-19 test and travel.

A number of countries, such as Greece and Spain, among others, have already said that they will welcome back travellers who are already vaccinated or have a negative COVID-19 test result. We expect more countries to adopt similar policies in the coming weeks and months as vaccination programmes around the world continue to ramp up.

Related: Country-by-country guide to where you can go if you’re vaccinated

What do vaccine passports look like?

England Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Wednesday that the government will use the NHS app as its digital vaccine passport. Within the app, travellers will be able to upload a negative COVID-19 test result, as well as display their vaccination status.

It’s worth noting that it won’t be the NHS COVID-19 track and trace app, which you use to check in to restaurants and pubs, but instead, it will be available on the standard NHS app that is used to book appointments.

Related: England will use NHS app as digital vaccine passport for international travel

(Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images)

Where will the digital vaccine passport be accepted?

At this moment, that’s the big question. In order for the NHS app as a digital vaccine passport to make any difference, it has to be widely accepted by other countries.

The acceptance note is high on the mind of government officials who are looking to establish it as a viable option to exist alongside the digital vaccine passports of other countries.

“I’m working internationally with partners across the world to make sure that system can be internationally recognised,” Shapps said. “I’m chairing a meeting of the G7 secretaries of state for transport, my equivalents, from America and Canada and all the other G7 countries next week on exactly that subject.”

How do I get a vaccine passport?

At the time of publication, there are still questions surrounding how a traveller would get ahold of a vaccine passport.

It’s believed that once you’ve been vaccinated through the NHS, your status will be uploaded to the NHS app. You’ll then be able to show that status as a means of entering a country whilst on holiday.

Alternatively, if you’ve yet to get vaccinated, you are expected to be able to upload a recent COVID-19 test result to the NHS app. For countries that will allow travellers to enter with a negative test result, this digital test result format should be sufficient proof.

At this time, the best way to ensure you will be able to get a digital vaccine passport when the technology is available is to download the NHS app.

When will the UK have digital vaccination passports?

The technology to build the digital vaccine passport within the NHS app is in the works. The government says that it plans for it to be ready to go by the time international travel is set to resume. At this time, the government is still eyeing 17 May as the date for England’s return to international travel, though it could be pushed back.

If the technology is not ready by the time travel resumes, Brits who are travelling abroad may have to look at alternate ways to prove their status. Greece has said that it will accept the NHS paper certificate as proof that a traveller has been vaccinated. However, it remains to be seen if other countries will follow suit and accept the same paper, handwritten format of vaccination.

In the interim, however, many countries may accept a digital record of a negative COVID-19 test, such as a certificate sent via email.

Does the digital vaccine passport apply to the whole of the UK?

In Wednesday’s announcement, Shapps said that the digital vaccine passport would initially be rolled out for England. The devolved nations will take into account how they want to issue digital vaccine passports for their own, but it’s possible that they could take the same lead as England by using the NHS app.

Will there be an EU-wide vaccine passport?

Yes, the EU is in the process of developing its Digital Green Certificate, which will be available and recognised by all Member States.

The EU’s Digital Green Certificate will act as proof of vaccination, a recent negative COVID-19 test result or that you have recent recovered from COVID-19. Once the technology is ready, it will allow travellers from EU countries to travel around their own country as well as others within the EU.

The Digital Green Certificat will also include some non-EU Member States, such as Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland. However, it will not include the United Kingdom.

Are any airlines doing something similar?

Several airlines are using separate apps for travellers to provide proof of their vaccination status. For example, American Airlines is streamlining an app called VeriFLY where passengers can select a destination, upload negative test results and then receive a QR code to show at an airport check-in counter.

Since 4 February, here in the U.K., select British Airways passengers headed to the U.S. will also have access to VeriFLY’s mobile health passport. Though the app currently just uses data about testing, it may be expanded to vaccination.

Featured photo by CasPhotography/Getty Images 

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