Whatever you think about vaccine passports, if you want to travel overseas you're going to need one.
Some countries require one as a condition of entry. Others, insist that everyone prove their vaccine status before they're allowed to sit down in a café, take a flight or attend sporting or cultural events. In France it's the COVID-19 Pass Sanitaire, in Italy the Green Pass, and the world is edging toward a common vaccine passport so foreign travellers can enjoy the same privileges as fully vaccinated locals.
It's likely that the vaccine passport will eventually take the place of the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP), the yellow booklet created by the World Health Organisation that has for many decades provided proof of vaccination against hepatitis, yellow fever, cholera, rabies and several other viral diseases.
Which countries require a vaccine passport
Each country in Europe has its own requirements but travellers arriving from Australia without a vaccine passport will be subject to additional tests and quarantine in some cases. In an extreme example, Malta, with one of the world's highest vaccination rates, has slammed the door to unvaccinated foreign travellers. The EU has a COVID-19 Vaccine Passport valid in member states and within the Schengen area countries, but countries within the EU also have local versions. The vaccine passport proposed by the Australian government should allow us to travel freely within Europe. Without a vaccine passport, travel in most parts of continental Europe is not going to be much fun.
From September 1, 2021, Singapore is allowing fully vaccinated travellers to apply for a Vaccinated Travel Pass which will allow them to enter, but the pass is available only to those coming from Germany and Brunei. Singapore's food and beverage outlets have recently been allowed to resume table service to fully vaccinated diners.
Travellers can only visit Israel if they're fully vaccinated and in a group of five or more.
In Israel, you need a COVID-19 Green Pass to enter hotels, restaurants, swimming pools, gyms, sporting and cultural events, galleries and museums.
Many other countries require a vaccine passport as a condition of entry, but not as a requirement in restaurants and cultural institutions.
Morocco allows entry to travellers coming from countries with a low incidence of COVID-19 with either a vaccine passport or a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before boarding their flight. Vaccinated travellers coming from countries with higher rates of COVID-19 are exempted from quarantine with evidence of a recent negative PCR test but unvaccinated travellers are subject to 10 days of controlled quarantine
Unvaccinated travellers are increasingly facing a growing list of bans. Canada denies entry to the unvaccinated and France, Spain the Netherlands and Norway have all recently banned unvaccinated US travellers.
Phuket, Thailand's favourite holiday island, opened to fully vaccinated foreign visitors from low-risk countries on July 1, 2021, followed by a similar program on some of the islands off the east coast including Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao.
New Zealand is considering a vaccine passport, possibly by the end of 2021, but there are concerns about inequality and discrimination since that would disadvantage some sectors the population, especially among Maori, for whom vaccination rates lag the national average.
Travel without a vaccine passport
Among the countries Australians are most likely to visit, neither the UK nor the US require a vaccine passport.
After proposing a vaccine passport for entry to nightclubs and other major indoor events the UK government has recently backed away from the idea.
The US does not have a federally mandated COVID vaccine passport and most states have banned their use, but others have implemented their own COVID pass system. Hawaii has a SMART Health Card available to fully vaccinated residents only, and the state government is encouraging restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theatres and other attractions to require proof before admission.
New York State has the Excelsior Pass, available only to residents or those who have been vaccinated in the state. The pass is required for entry to restaurants, gyms and indoor entertainment venues. California also offers a digital COVID-19 Vaccine Record but acceptance is patchy. San Francisco requires proof of full vaccination for indoor dining, bars, gyms and entertainment venues while in Los Angeles proof is required for indoor bars, wineries, breweries, nightclubs and lounges.
What about Australia's vaccine passport?
To facilitate overseas travel, the federal government is planning to make vaccine passports available from October 2021. Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan has flagged a vaccine passport in the form of a QR code linked to the holder's passport. That's likely to be sufficient in Europe and most other countries that demand proof of full vaccination but dining out in places such as New York City and San Francisco might be a problem for some since the AstraZeneca vaccine is not yet approved in the US.
What about air travel?
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce recently confirmed a previous announcement that only fully vaccinated travellers would be allowed to fly aboard the airline's international services, planned to resume in December 2021. Etihad also requires all passengers to test negative for COVID-19. Other airlines leave it up to the destination to determine the vaccination protocols, but anyone who shows up at the airport unvaccinated and expecting to fly to a destination that requires full vaccination is unlikely to get on board.
Should you prefer countries that require vaccine passports?
If you value your health and you're fully vaccinated with Pfizer or AstraZeneca, you probably don't want to be sitting down to eat among people who might have COVID-19, nor breathing the same air in an art gallery. Fully vaccinated people are not immune from the virus but they're less likely to contract COVID-19, and less likely to transmit it. Therefore a country that requires proof of vaccination status might be better for your well-being, and statistics support that.
Both the US and the UK, neither of which require vaccine passports for domestic use, are currently recording around 450 daily new COVID-19 cases per million of their populations. In France, Italy, Sweden and Canada – all of which require a vaccine passport either to enter the country or to sit down in a café or attend a performance – the number is fewer than 150 new infections per million per day. That's not conclusive evidence that a country with vaccine passport protocols will have fewer daily infections. Israel's infection rate has blown out to over 600 new cases per million each day. But which country would you rather be travelling in?