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Updated 7 April 2021

Singapore has been lauded as one of the successful countries in handling the coronavirus pandemic with its relatively small numbers of cases and deaths. Now, with the advent of the vaccination program, the country is hoping to leap back to everyday post-COVID life soon enough.

As vaccination rollouts gather pace across the country, attention is now turning to vaccine passport as a key to restart more domestic activities and potentially international travel.

Read up on the progress, benefit, and risk to vaccine passport in Singapore.

What is a vaccine passport?

A vaccine passport is proof of vaccination that may be required as a condition of entry or service. It is digital documentation that an individual has been vaccinated against a virus, in this case, COVID. Most commonly, this is considered for international travel, but certain domestic services are also discussed.

The idea is to develop verifiable, secure, and credible digitized records of inoculation that will be accepted across countries to bypass mandatory quarantine requirements.

Not to be mistaken with ‘immunity passport,’ the so-called COVID passport is a means of verifying an individual’s COVID credentials, including their vaccination status, latest test result, and COVID recovery status for those who had earlier contracted the virus. Vaccine passport, meanwhile, may be limited to showing only COVID vaccination status.

COVID vaccine passport in Singapore

Singapore’s aviation regulatory, Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) has announced that the country will implement and accept the IATA Travel Pass to facilitate verification during pre-departure checks for international travel from May onwards.

Travellers can get clearance to fly to and enter Singapore by showing the smartphone application containing their data from accredited laboratories. 

Those who are travelling to Singapore and intend to use the travel pass should check with the airline they are travelling with for eligibility to use the travel pass, said CAAS and IATA.

Vaccine passport potential benefits

Vaccine passports are viewed as the simplest, cheapest, most authoritative, scalable, and fraud-resistant method of proving vaccination status. Vaccine passports are a successful system that could jump-start tourism and hospitality, sectors of the economy that urgently need a lifeline.

Vaccine passports have been proposed as a way to make governments, citizens, and travelers more comfortable with opening up to tourism. Ideally, the presentation of such a digital certificate would allow people to prove themselves to be ‘safe ’and to bypass mandatory quarantine requirements. 

Essentially, it would serve as a way to loosen current restrictions on travel and access to facilities. It would also relax the requirement in many countries that require arriving passengers to test negative for the virus. 

If a standardized and widely accepted pass emerges, it will eliminate the need to carry physical documentation and grant credibility to the online certification.

Vaccine passport potential risks

There are valid reasons why someone would want or need to opt-out of the COVID jab, in essence excluding them from accessing the full benefits of vaccine passport.

For example, the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines are not recommended for pregnant women, severely immunocompromised persons, and children under the age of 16 years for Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, until more efficacy and safety data become available. Those with particular health conditions, namely allergies and immune system issues, have also been deemed unsuitable for the vaccine.

Further, vaccination passports may give populations an inaccurate level of risk perception. It is still unclear how long immunity will last. It is also unclear the extent to which virus transmission is limited once one is vaccinated. Public health authorities still suggest that vaccinated individuals wear masks and maintain distancing in public for now, especially if interacting with unvaccinated people. 

Due to these concerns, the WHO is currently against making the vaccination passport mandatory. WHO has previously noted that it’s still unknown how long immunity lasts from the numerous licensed COVID-19 vaccines and that data is still being collected. 

There are also privacy concerns with vaccine passports, which are primarily being proposed in a digital format.

When will Singapore implement the vaccine passport?

Becoming one of the first countries to adopt the initiative, Singapore will accept the IATA mobile travel pass for pre-departure checks from May 1, 2021. Passengers travelling to Singapore by air will be able to use the IATA travel pass as part of an ongoing collaboration between the CAAS and IATA.

The travel pass will be available for download in the second half of April.

The pass was successfully tested by Singapore Airlines earlier this year and became the first airline in the world to validate vaccine records using the IATA Travel Pass.