Vaccine passports gain traction as delta variant threatens travel rebound
- A survey found 81.8% of Americans support the idea of vaccine passports, digital or physical proof of vaccination against Covid-19.
- Acceptance of a vaccine passport mandate from public and private entities varies among age and gender cohorts, according to website Upgraded Points.
- A federal judge recently ruled in favor of Norwegian Cruise Line's requirement for proof of passenger vaccination and against the state of Florida's ban on such mandates.
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As the rampant delta variant of Covid-19 threatens the post-pandemic travel and tourism rebound, there's growing acceptance of so-called vaccine passports among a one-hesitant U.S. public and increased calls for their mandated use across the industry.
A survey from travel website Upgraded Points of 1,000 people from June 2 to 3, in fact, found that 81.8% of U.S. respondents supported the idea of a vaccine passport — usually defined as a paper or digital document proving inoculation against Covid-19 — and 54.9% said airlines, hotel and other travel companies should require proof of vaccination from customers.
In fact, 74% agreed airlines should require proof of vaccination before customers fly. A majority (58%, on average) also think airlines, cruise ships, trains and buses should segregate vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers.
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That public take aligns with what Vikkie Walker, senior travel reporter on vaccine passports at website The Points Guy, said is the general industry position.
"The travel industry has been generally supportive of digital health or vaccine passports because they see it as something that will streamline the overall travel experience, especially for air travel," she said.
"I've also seen many destinations, particularly those dependent on tourism, support the idea or begin rolling them out," said Walker, noting that hesitation among some travelers is more "about the digital component [an app, etc.], over an actual vaccine requirement."
That said, 61% of those surveyed told Upgraded Points they think all vaccine passports actually do infringe on the rights of the unvaccinated. However, 50.9% of them also said they themselves would be more likely to just go ahead and get the jab if it were required for domestic travel.
Alex Miller, founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, said he suspects the acceptance of vaccine passports would have been lower had the survey been conducted just a few months ago.
"Vaccine passports have become more and more of a reality with time and appear to be a potential path to normalcy," he said. "The more they are discussed and even introduced, the more likely people may be to get the vaccine, which will ultimately aid in the overall goal of limiting the spread of Covid-19."
Mandates may be on the way, at least in some locales.
Starting Aug. 16, New York City will require proof of vaccination from workers and customers at gyms, restaurants and indoor entertainment venues such as movie theaters and concert halls, although strict enforcement won't begin until Sept. 13, to give businesses time to ramp up.
At Broadway shows raising their curtains again this fall, theatergoers will be required to not only show proof of vaccination but wear a mask, too. Indoor venues in the Big Apple such as Broadway theaters will accept physical vaccination cards as well as digital proof such as the city's own Covid Safe App and New York state's Excelsior Pass.
Other states such as Florida, Missouri and Texas, meanwhile, have banned vaccine passports outright, but Miller said he thinks Gotham may be just the first jurisdictional domino to fall.
"New York City mandating proof of vaccination is a big step for vaccine passports and will likely pave the way for more cities, states and companies to do the same," he said.
On the corporate front, Disney Cruise Line is resuming U.S. sailings with no vaccine requirement but mandated masking and Covid-19 testing, while competitor Norwegian Cruise Line has taken a different stance, demanding proof of vaccination from all passengers.
Cruising toward vaccine passport acceptance?
That position has put it at odds with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who banned vaccine passports in the Sunshine State earlier this year, including on cruises such as Norwegian's departing local ports. But the line won a legal victory on Aug. 8, when U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams ruled that Norwegian — likely to ultimately prevail in its view that the ban, signed into law July 1, is unconstitutional and a threat to public health — could in fact require proof of passenger vaccinations on sailings from Miami and other Florida ports. (The state is appealing the decision.)
"We are pleased that Judge Williams saw the facts, the law and the science as we did and granted the company's motion for preliminary injunction allowing us to operate cruises from Florida with 100% vaccinated guests and crew," said Daniel S. Farkas, executive vice president and general counsel of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, in a statement.
Farkas added that the cruise line's vaccination proof requirement is "an effort to do our part as responsible corporate citizens to minimize, to the greatest extent possible, further spread of Covis-19 as we gradually relaunch our vessels."
Cruise customers who aren't willing to provide such proof can choose to not patronize companies like Norwegian, noted Miller at Upgraded Points.
"The big difference between private company and government mandates is that an individual can choose to avoid a certain private company that enacts a policy they do not agree with whereas a government mandate is usually unavoidable," Farkas said.
That puts popular foreign destinations with vaccination requirements and/or proof of negative Covid tests out of practical reach for the unvaccinated for now. Canada, for example, reopened its borders to U.S. visitors on Aug. 9, but only to vaccinated people who have tested negative within three days and have also filled out an application on the new ArriveCAN web platform and smartphone app.
The Upgraded Points survey found that vaccine passport attitudes are tied, in some respects, to age and gender. Baby boomers are the least accepting, at 76.9%, whereas Gen Z is the most open to the idea, at 86%.
Women are about 7% more likely to support vaccine passports than men but among the unvaccinated, men are "are roughly 12% more likely to be incentivized by a vaccine passport requirement to get the vaccine," Miller noted.
But attitudes toward vaccination are not cut-and-dried. Upgraded Points found that boomers, while less supportive of vaccine passports, are also the most wary when it comes to traveling in close quarters with unvaccinated strangers. Some 57.7% said they'd feel uncomfortable on a two-hour domestic flight without a mask not knowing fellow passengers' vaccination status, compared to just 37% of Gen Zers.
"While it makes sense as those who are older are more at risk, there is a disconnect among personal comfort levels and support for vaccine passport policies intended to provide peace of mind," Miller said.
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