Vaccine Passports: Saving Travel or Saved by Travel?

Alfredo Dally – Can you imagine a world where you have to show your boarding ticket, passport, and a COVID-19 vaccine record in order to travel abroad? Well, as the world begins to reopen to the idea of travel, many are working on systems to address the ongoing COVD-19 pandemic. One proposed new measure is this idea of a “vaccine passport”, which has created a great deal of discourse. The general idea behind a vaccine passport is to find a simple way to document who is vaccinated. This would allow businesses (or even cities, states, or countries) to fully open up to those individuals who have been vaccinated.

Unsurprisingly, as with the rest of COVID-19 related events, this idea has spurred new political controversy when Republican Governors Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbott of Texas each issued executive orders barring companies receiving state contracts or grant money from requiring vaccine passports. New York, on the other hand, has already implemented a vaccine passport system for businesses and venues to use it. One of the bigger questions is whether the benefits of a vaccine passport outweigh the questionable ethical considerations, such as privacy and civil liberties considerations.

Many are hoping that a vaccine passport will allow for travel to open back up. Many countries around the world are already working on requiring proof of vaccination as a requirement to enter the country or as an alternative to a negative test. This requirement is by no means a new idea, many countries have required proof of vaccines before.

The issue now is the fact that the current administration has taken the position that they will leave any requirement of vaccine passports to businesses alone, while some states have decided to forbid it and others have already planning to implement them. For businesses, this creates the issue of what they are allowed or even required to do.

This is a clear issue for the cruise line industry, which has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Cruise lines are desperate for the government to allow them to set sail again, but the light at the end of the road is not as bright as one might hope. Cruise lines have begun to set sail in certain parts of the world, but with requirements that all passengers be vaccinated. This new requirement is a decision made by several major cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and Carnival. Most of these major cruise lines have created safety plans that revolve around their passengers and crewmembers providing vaccination records in hopes that such plans can help them safely set sail once the federal no sail mandate is lifted.

Vaccine passports also provide cruise lines with a method of enticing future passengers to finally set sail again. The main issue with cruising during the pandemic is the fear of transmitting COVID-19. Many cruise lines have an ongoing awareness campaign that will likely heavily influence the cruise lines’ decision to support and require vaccine passports. At the beginning of the pandemic, the Diamond Princess cruise notoriously had 691 cases of the coronavirus onboard which eventually led to a 14-day holding period for its passengers. The CDC has also deemed cruise ships to be a very high risk of transmitting COVID-19 due to its closed quarters. Research has also shown that cruisers and non-cruisers alike are less likely to go on a cruise trip during the pandemic until a proven vaccine is readily available. Providing a mechanism for passengers to feel safe by requiring vaccination proof is a simple way to diminish the worries of future passengers and entice more to purchase a cruise vacation earlier rather than later.

Cruise ships are not the only ones on board with the vaccine passport. Airlines around the world have begun implementing a vaccine passport in response to the current or future requirements set forth by different countries. As the world begins to reopen, new rules and procedures will be set in place to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19, and airlines, along with cruise ships and various other industries, will continue to adapt and comply with the varying requirements.

But with DeSantis’ new executive order, the cruise lines are now back to square one with their plans. The requirements of the mandate contradicts some of the plans of other states or countries and raise the question of how a business as big and international as the cruise industry must or should handle it. The cruise ship industry generates billions of dollars by operating from Florida alone. Although the federal no sail mandate is still in effect, how will Governor DeSantis’s executive order further impact the cruise industry’s ability to return to sailing? Will the cruise industry’s importance to the Florida economy affect the future decisions regarding a vaccine passport or will they decide to begin sailing from elsewhere? The complexity of the situation means there are no right answers unless clearer and more unified rules are set in place. This will take a united effort between the varying states and various countries, but it will be at the benefit of safety and a return to some normalcy.

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