Vaccine passports are set to become a part of everyday life right across the world as governments race to vaccinate their populations against the coronavirus.
Countries including Israel, the United Kingdom, and much of Europe have either already rolled out a vaccine passport scheme or are actively working on one.
While the US government says it won’t introduce federally mandated vaccine passports, it does look increasingly likely that many restaurants, gyms, sports stadiums, and other venues will require such a document to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and they may also be required for international travel.
So what might a vaccine passport system look like in the United States?
One model the US government and businesses could look to is Israel, which has led the world both in terms of vaccinating its population and in introducing a vaccine passport scheme.
Here’s what their scheme can tell us about how vaccine passport systems might work in the US.
How do vaccine passports work?
Israel started issuing so-called “green passes” on February 21 to people who had received the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Under the scheme, designed to ease the country out of lockdown, Israelis issued their ID or passport number, date of birth, and approval for their health care provider to verify that the person had received their vaccine.
In return, they were issued with a “green pass.” The pass can be displayed on a mobile phone as a QR code or as a printed physical document.
Who is eligible for a passport?
Every adult who has been received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccination, or who has recovered from the coronavirus. Children younger than 16 years old who have recovered from the coronavirus can be added to their parent’s passport.
Where does a the pass allow you to enter?
Anyone is allowed to enter a museum or art gallery. Those with a green pass can enter venues including:
— Gyms and studios
— Swimming pools
— Restaurants and cafes
— Stadiums and other sporting venues
What does a vaccine passport mean for travel?
Israel’s government has been tight-lipped about when it will start to significantly ease current travel restrictions, which prevent citizens from traveling abroad on holiday. However, it has signed an agreement with Cyprus and Greece, two EU members, to pilot a scheme that allows vaccinated people to travel freely between the three countries, Arab News reported. It will be piloted this summer.
Has Israel’s roll-out of vaccine passports gone well?
“In the shopping mall no one is really checking on [vaccine passports] but in restaurants and bars it’s working,” said Tal Schneider, a political correspondent at The Times of Israel in an interview with CGTN Europe.
Schneider said the public reaction to passports had been positive, where people felt it had “added” to their freedom.
“You’ve seen people outdoors everywhere and indoors everywhere,” she said. “It’s made a lot of people feel easy to participate,” she said.
Counterfeit vaccine passports could be a problem
There are major privacy issues with Israel’s vaccine passport program, however.
The QR codes which the green pass scheme relies on are easily counterfeited and a black market for forged passports has reportedly emerged already on Telegram, the encrypted chat app.
According to Ran Bar-Zik, a cybersecurity expert in Israel, “there are tens of thousands faking” green passes. His comments were cited by the Times of Israel.
Another issue is that the scheme relies on a centralized database, the Telegraph reported. That means everyone’s personal information is kept in one place, creating a potential goldmine for hackers.
However, a spokesman for Israel’s health ministry said the early versions of Israel’s green passes had been developed quickly and new versions would be more secure.
“We are looking into implementing a secure barcode that will be internationally accepted,” a spokesperson for the Health Ministry told Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 in March.