Comment: One form of vaccine certification will be much simpler

It’s inevitable that health data for travel is moving online, says ATPI sales director Katie Skitterall

Have you bought a bit of technology recently? Maybe a new TV or laptop? It was a nightmare, wasn’t it?

We’re lucky to have so much choice, but it does make things complicated.

It’s hard to know what’s right when it comes to important new kit, but this is exactly the sort of dilemma corporate travel now faces with the potential introduction of vaccine passports.

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Forget the notion of an old-fashioned paper-based system – the age of digital health certification has arrived.

Of course, the idea poses all sorts of ethical and moral questions. But on a more practical note, there’s the fact that a whole plethora of potential solutions are being promoted.

These include (among others) CommonPass, created by the World Economic Forum and The Commons Project; the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative; AOKPass, which is being developed by the International Chamber of Commerce, International SOS and SGS Group; and the Microsoft-backed Vaccination Credential Initiative.

Meanwhile, individual nations such as the UK, Denmark, Dubai, Israel and Sweden are working on systems for their own citizens – so is the European Union. Airlines such as Ryanair and Air Asia are trialling digital information wallets, while Iata is pushing ahead with its Travel Pass for member carriers currently being trialled by Singapore Airlines.

This fragmented landscape will no doubt sort itself out over time but, whatever happens, travel management companies (TMCs) and corporates need to be getting ready for the resumption of business travel by getting travel policies in order, including how they manage vaccine certification.

While all of these digital health ‘passports’ will undoubtably be very secure – many are protected by blockchain or biometric data so only the subject has access – there are still risks for employers.

In these early stages it might be worthwhile sounding out employees if they are happy to use the technology and let them choose which one rather than recommending an option. In the event of hacking or data breaches, this gives companies some protection. For clarity, travel policies should include wording that using vaccine certification carries personal data risks.

Going forward, it is possible that some of the info held may need to be accessible by the travel organiser too, either linking to their own traveller profile database or duplicated and held separately.

Either way, this has obvious GDPR and privacy implications, so sounding out staff will aid understanding the comfort levels with this approach. It is important that employers take a conciliatory approach to staff and educate them ahead of time about what may be expected in the future.

At present, for example, a traveller’s profile may contain details about various visas and the different vaccinations they have had. Adding their Covid-19 status (are they vaccinated? when were they vaccinated? are they exempt? have they ever had the virus?) is likely to become part of the mix.

It may be that travellers are relieved to be able to move again, and happily accept. But there will be people with concerns, so understanding these and researching solutions will make it easier to manage challenges in the future.

Keeping information up to date so it can be assessed against future possible travel restrictions becomes a major issue. Employees may have to share every potential Covid-19 interaction, such as every negative test result, along with possibly specifics about where they may have flown on holiday, which potentially blurs the line between safety and personal privacy.

For employers, there is also a big HR issue to contend with – namely, what do you do with unvaccinated staff, or those who do not want to be tested?

In the UK, discrimination laws protect workers when making choices about their own health, but companies need to be clear on what not having the jab means, and what travel rules are outside of your control. It will be down to destination countries and airlines to decide who can travel, so unvaccinated people could find their roles alter going forward.

For corporates, the ultimate aim is to carry staff with them.

People already understand these are uncertain times, and will welcome efforts by employers to demonstrate that they have workers’ best interests at heart. We have already seen national policies shift multiple times when it comes to who can travel where, so flexibility in travel policies is a must.

The one thing we do know is that the pandemic has undoubtably accelerated all forms of contactless technology, so it is likely that some form of digital wallet storing all travel and health documents will become the norm.

Getting the ground rules right now could make life easier for everyone in the future.

More: Bid to ‘save summer’ for fully vaccinated travellers

1m+ new users download NHS app which now shows vaccine status

Approval of vaccine certificates varies by age

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