News COVID vaccine certificates and health passes for travel: your questions answered

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COVID vaccine certificates and health passes for travel: your questions answered

We know that travel is especially difficult right now. But alongside the latest COVID-19 travel advice and updates, we want to continue to inspire you with new travel content so that when the world opens its doors again, you'll be ready.

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With the vaccine rollout, international travel may be on the horizon. What are COVID vaccine certificates? How are they different from vaccine passports? What’s a health pass? And how will all of these affect travellers? We answer your top questions when it comes to vaccine certificates in Australia.

A COVID vaccine certificate may be required to fly

What are COVID vaccine certificates for travel?

COVID vaccine certificates are proof that you have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Once you’re vaccinated against COVID-19, your proof will be uploaded to the Australian Immunisation Register, a national register that keeps a record of vaccines given to people in Australia. This record is accessible through Australian residents’ myGov or Medicare accounts. The register also records any immunisation medical exemptions.

Although the government is still to confirm their specific use, COVID-19 vaccine certificates may be required for quarantine-free travel. This could be both in terms of interstate travel in Australia as well as international travel.

In February 2021, Government Services Minister Stuart Robert told the ABC that states and territories within Australia will decide whether a COVID vaccine certificate would be mandatory for travel. However, he also stated it would be highly likely that those entering Australia from overseas will need a vaccination certificate. Failing that, they will have to spend a period in quarantine upon entry (or re-entry) into the country.

Some airlines, like Qantas, are considering requiring passengers to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 prior to boarding a flight. In March 2021, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told the BBC that he thought “governments are going to insist” on proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to enter the country. Since late 2020, he has also held the position that Qantas may make its own policy requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of entry for Qantas flight.

The ABC reported that, as of March 2021, the Chinese government has rolled out a digital certificate, demonstrating vaccination status for its citizens through the ubiquitous WeChat app.

How are COVID vaccine certificates different from vaccine passports?

The terms ‘vaccine passport’ and ‘vaccine certificate’ can sometimes be used interchangeably, however, all official government messaging uses the term ‘vaccine certificate’.

More specifically, health passports are generally apps that collate all your health data in one place. This may include the COVID-19 vaccine, but also information about other immunisations, such as yellow fever shots and rabies vaccinations.

Some airlines are also trialling apps that they are branding as travel or health passes which, in the case of COVID, may have details of test results or vaccination status, but nothing else relating to other diseases. For example, some countries require proof of yellow fever immunisation for travellers who wish to enter their borders. Your health pass will only show whether you have received a particular vaccine.

Organisations like the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) believe that one-time-use health passes where travellers show proof of a negative COVID-19 test are the way forward.

“It will take a significant amount of time to vaccinate the global population, particularly those in less advanced countries, or in different age groups, therefore we should not discriminate against those who wish to travel but have not been vaccinated.”

“Testing for non-vaccinated travellers, along with mandatory mask wearing and enhanced health and hygiene protocols, would allow the safe resumption on international travel [and] avoid the risk of transmission.”

Man with a mask looking at his phone

How can I get a COVID vaccine certification?

Vaccinations in Australia started on 22 February 2021, with a clear path of who would be eligible for the immunisation laid out by the government. The current timeline is that all Australians will be able to get the vaccination from October 2021 onwards.

Once you have your COVID-19 vaccine, this data will be uploaded to the Australian Immunisation Registrar and displayed on your myGov and Medicare apps/websites.

COVID immunisation certificates are currently being emailed to those who have had the vaccine. You can then download it and print as needed.

When will vaccine certificates be available in Australia?

There’s no official timeline in place at the moment as to when internationally recognised or standardised vaccine certificates will become available.

However, proof of all vaccines administered in Australia, including the COVID-19 vaccine, are available through the Australian Immunisation Register, which links vaccine history to an Australian resident’s myGov and Medicare accounts. According to the Australian Immunisation Register, your vaccine history can be used a proof of vaccination for travel.

What are the potential benefits of vaccine certificates?

The main benefit of vaccine certificates is the idea that it will limit the spread of COVID-19 and make travel safer. If unvaccinated people are to travel internationally, there’s a chance they could take coronavirus (or a new strain of it) overseas — or catch it while they’re away. This could also help speed up the recovery of travel and tourism industries that have been impacted by the pandemic. Vaccine certificates may also remove the need to quarantine upon arrival.

What is a health pass?

The World Travel and Tourism Council differentiates health passes (also called digital travel passes) and health passports. A health pass records limited data, like the results of a COVID-19 test or proof of COVID immunisation, with no other non-pertinent data. This health pass may expire within a certain amount of time. Some airlines are considering using health pass technology in the form of an app to enable passengers to demonstrate they meet certain criteria (such as negative COVID-19 test results) for travel before boarding their flights.

A health passport records all of an individual’s health data, and may include medical information outside of vaccination history—like allergies or injuries. The terms ‘health pass’ and ‘health passport’ are often used interchangeably.

Who or what companies are providing health passes?

Several airlines and airports are trialling different health pass systems for travel.

Qantas and other major airlines are testing two main candidates. These are the IATA Travel Pass and CommonPass apps.


The CommonPass app allows users to store COVID test results and vaccination details, making sure they come from trusted sources and that they satisfy the requirements of the destination country. As well as Qantas, there are five major airlines who have committed to CommonPass: Lufthansa, JetBlue, Swiss International Airlines, United and Virgin Atlantic.

IATA Travel Pass

The IATA Travel Pass directs people to testing centres close to their departure and arrival airports and allows authorised centres to send results directly to the app. Once a passenger has the app, they can store details of vaccinations and tests and share them with appropriate travel authorities. Other travel documentation, such as flight tickets, can be stored on the app.

There is also the ICC AOKpass, which is a similar app to CommonPass. Your medical records will be securely stored using blockchain technology, and your health information is saved locally on your phone rather than in a central database. A private company in Singapore is develeoping the software, with the backing of the World Tourism Organisation of the United Nations.

Will introducing vaccine certification open up travel faster?

In March 2021, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said that as the vaccine rolls out across Australia and the world, travel bubbles will begin to emerge. COVID vaccine certification may become an integral part of this, though the specifics are still being considered.

The Australian and New Zealand governments have agreed on a travel bubble that opened on 19 April 2021. There’s also talk of a travel bubble with Singapore opening up sometime in 2021. These travel bubbles are largely dependent on each participating country having low to no COVID-19 cases. Though airlines like Qantas and Air New Zealand are currently considering requiring travellers to show proof of vaccination prior in order to fly, no official policies have been implemented yet.

Which countries have said they will accept COVID vaccine certificates?

Several countries have declared they will be allowing quarantine-free travel for travellers who provide proof that they’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Some countries, like Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Portugal, the Seychelles, Estonia and Thailand are looking into allowing quarantine-free travel for vaccinated travellers. However, the international community has yet to standardise or agree on proof of vaccination.

What are the current challenges?

One of the main challenges facing COVID vaccine certificates is likely to be a lack of a global standard. Each airline, state or territory, and country will need to agree on the validity of the vaccine certificate. This should be solved over time, but it could mean that we see a range of travel bubbles opening up around the world. Some countries or regions may remain inaccessible for longer than others.

Other challenges include the availability of the vaccine to travellers, as countries are rolling out vaccination programs on different timelines. In Australia, the government hopes anyone who wants a COVID vaccine will be able to get one by October. Meanwhile, the United States has set their goal timeline for May 2021.

There are also ethical concerns related to vaccine certificates and health passes. Some travellers are worried about data security, and others wonder if requiring a vaccine to travel is discriminatory.

Vaccine certification is certainly a complicated issue, with the situation changing regularly. Hopefully, this article has helped answer any vaccine certification and health pass questions you might’ve had.

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