What is a COVID vaccine passport and how would it work?

EU officials have proposed 'digital green certificates'

A "vaccine passport" is documentation affirming that a person has received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccine passports are typically an app with a code that verifies whether someone has been vaccinated or recently tested negative for COVID-19. They are in use in Israel and under development in parts of Europe, seen as a way to safely help rebuild the pandemic-devastated travel industry.

Those in favor of mandating vaccine certifications argue that the documentation could facilitate business reopenings, mass events and international travel.

Although U.S. public schools in all 50 states have required students to receive their vaccines unless schools approve certain medical or religious exemptions, those against a COVID-19-specific vaccine passport say requiring documentation proving immunization in exchange for goods or services raise privacy questions.

Republicans have largely condemned the idea of requiring documentation that proves a person has been inoculated in order for that person to participate in certain public activities -- an idea that some states and countries have floated or enacted.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have already issued executive orders restricting the use of such documentation in their respective states. DeSantis and Abbott also issued orders banning statewide mask mandates -- another hotly debated issue -- leaving such rules up to individual locales and businesses.

On a federal level, the White House said Tuesday that it will not support a national vaccine passport requirement. U.K. leaders are weighing the option, according to the BBC, and EU officials have proposed "digital green certificates," which would certify whether an individual has been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from COVID-19.

The Chinese government, as early as last April, required citizens to present a green symbol on their smartphones that says a user is symptom-free to board a subway, check into a hotel or enter Wuhan. In March, China launched travel certificates using QR codes that show an individual's test results, vaccine and other information, according to state media.

The certification program meant to facilitate safe travel is available via the Chinese social media app WeChat and made possible by the Chinese public's almost universal adoption of smartphones, as well as the ruling Communist Party's embrace of "Big Data" to extend its surveillance and control over society.

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The health codes add to a steadily growing matrix of high-tech monitoring that tracks what China’s citizens do in public, online and at work: millions of video cameras blanket streets from major cities to small towns. Censors monitor activity on the internet and social media. State-owned telecom carriers can trace where mobile phone customers go.

 medical worker scans QR code on the mobile phone screen for registration before a resident receives nucleic acid testing for COVID-19 at Munao community, Ruili City, southwest China's Yunnan Province, April 6, 2021. (Xinhua/Chen Xinbo via Getty Images)

 medical worker scans QR code on the mobile phone screen for registration before a resident receives nucleic acid testing for COVID-19 at Munao community, Ruili City, southwest China's Yunnan Province, April 6, 2021. (Xinhua/Chen Xinbo via Getty Images)

A vast, computerized system popularly known as social credit is intended to enforce obedience to official rules. People with too many demerits for violations ranging from committing felonies to littering can be blocked from buying plane tickets, getting loans, obtaining government jobs or leaving the country.

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The ACLU in a March 31 blog post, argued that "a vaccine passport will encourage over-use ... as people get asked for credentials at every turn."

"While there are legitimate circumstances in which people can be asked for proof of vaccination, we don’t want to turn into a checkpoint society that outlasts the danger of COVID and that casually excludes people without credentials from facilities where vaccine mandates are not highly justified," Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.