The surge in Canadian COVID-19 cases has governments across Canada hyper-focused on the vaccine rollout. For Canadians, however, hopeful thoughts of life after the pandemic are helping us get through the third wave. Naturally, this raises questions about how international travel will function and those questions are increasingly being directed to the federal government.
The European Union signalled that fully-vaccinated U.S. citizens will be able to travel to EU countries this summer. Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also rolled out a series of guidelines around international travel for fully vaccinated Americans. This led Health Minister Patty Hajdu to confirm that the federal government does accept the idea of vaccine passports. It will soon start to work on a form of certification that will allow Canadians to travel internationally again.
Minister Hajdu said in an interview this past Saturday that,”Canadians are going to want to travel … and need to be prepared to be able to travel internationally. And we’ll make sure that they are.”
Interestingly, it was just last week that Prime Minister Trudeau said the government was looking “very carefully” into vaccine passports. He warned that the process and logistics need time to be determined both carefully and effectively. The undertaking would also need to align with international allies.
“As was the case pre-pandemic, certificates of vaccination are a part of international travel to certain regions and are naturally to be expected when it comes to this pandemic and the coronavirus,” said Trudeau. “How we actually roll that out in alignment with partners and allies around the world, it’s something that we’re working on right now.”
Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, Mona Nemer, is providing the science and data needed for the federal government to move forward on vaccine passports. The current evidence suggests that people who are fully vaccinated do have a decreased risk of spreading the disease. However, several unknowns still complicate understanding of the efficacy of vaccination passports. Dr. Nemer suggested that more research is needed to better understand whether vaccinated people can transmit COVID-19, how long their immunity lasts, and how protected they are from emerging variants.
In the absence of concrete action from the federal government, the private sector has stepped in to fill the gap. The rollout of vaccine passports from private companies has already begun throughout the world and here in Canada. In Ontario, many hospitals and public health agencies are partnering with a company called CANImmunize to give patients a “vaccine booklet” for their records.
Internationally, the World Economic Forum is developing a “CommonPass” for travellers to show their COVID-19 status. The International Air Transport Association, with Canadian members including Air Canada and Westjet, is developing an “IATA Travel Pass.” The World Health Organization (WHO) is simultaneously working on developing clear international standards for “digital vaccination certificates.” It is expected that the standards that WHO finalizes, will be in line with Canada’s requirements on a national version of a passport.
While the idea of a vaccine passport is definitely gathering steam, the challenge of finding a cohesive system to use any passport still lingers globally and here at home. As vaccine distribution ramps up, pressure will mount on the federal government to be clear about what a Canadian vaccine passport will look like and how it will be implemented.