< PrevNext > 1. Expect Digital Health Passports to Raise Equity Concerns By Elizabeth West / January 25, 2021 / Contact Reporter Share At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, BTN held a number of buyer-only forums that provided participants with a platform for dialogue unperturbed by commercial participation. We talked about where to go from "here"–after the repatriations, after the travel hiatus. Perhaps none of the participants thought we would be in the same Covid-19 limbo nearly 10 months hence. What those buyers did foretell, however, was that health passports would be the path to travel's return. They were right. But it won't be easy, and there will be equity issues. CommonPass, The Mayo Clinic, Microsoft and Oracle among other participants have joined together as the Vaccine Coalition Initiative. The objective of the initiative is to provide a digital health passport for travel, but could they be used as a "free pass" to participate in any group-oriented activities? For our industry, think meetings and conferences or even the office. Recreationally, think concerts, sporting events, maybe even shopping centers. We have seen usage like this in China and a handful of other markets. While is difficult to imagine this level of implementation in Western market, the longer the pandemic persists, the more critical it will be to find solutions that will more fully open economies. That said, travel is different. The travel industry already has a form of health certification. Immunization against infectious diseases like yellow fever or malaria is required to travel to certain global markets. Graduating from that kind of certification to a broader digital health pass that is less vulnerable to fraud than a paper certificate sounds like an advance. And it is, particularly in the face of a pandemic. But there are also some negatives.Limited immunization that is required for voluntary travel to certain locations is quite different from being required to present proof of immunization to board any plane or enter any meeting or conference. The result of such a system would bifurcate access to these activities not only to the "will" and "will nots" in some cases but also to the "haves" and "have nots."Both are important issues. It's arguable that the "will nots" should not have access blocked because they can't or won't be immunized. There are models for these issues. For example, school systems provide immunization exceptions for school-age children who are not vaccinated for flu, chicken pox, measles and other infectious diseases. As larger numbers of the population opt out, however, it does endanger herd immunity. The "have nots" are another issue. Vaccine rollouts will not be standard around the world. Medical experts have discussed this issue at length with BTN over the past 10 months. First, there are money issues—rich countries have gotten access to the vaccines much faster than poorer nations. Second, there are distribution issues and the formulations of the mRNA vaccines have all but guaranteed that warmer, less developed nations cannot support versions of the vaccine that require super-subzero refrigeration. Financial and distribution issues will require poorer countries to use different vaccines than richer countries. This issue will likely precipitate debate over which vaccines meet government standards, and those will differ among nations. Assuming digital health passports are broadly rolled out—and I believe they will be—differences in which vaccine versions countries will accept on these platforms will imbed broad inequities in where global business travelers will be allowed to travel and which ones may not be able to travel at all.