Vaccine passports are a hot-button issue, but travellers already need vaccines to enter certain countries

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An Argentinian national holds his ID card and his international certificate of vaccination, or "yellow card," issued by Argentina's Health Ministry, on January 2008.

  • Requiring Covid-19 vaccine passports for travel has become a hot-button issue in recent weeks.
  • But mandating proof of vaccination for travel is not a new concept.
  • Countries in Africa and South America already require visitors to have a Yellow Fever vaccine.
  • For more articles, go to

The concept of making Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for travel has prompted heated debate in recent weeks.

Those against the idea argue that vaccine passports open the door for discrimination and could lead to privacy breaches; those in favour argue that they could help the world get back to normal more quickly.

Amid the debate, some in the medical community have pointed out that requiring proof of vaccination for travel is not a new concept.

Yellow fever vaccination certificates are already required to travel to certain countries in Africa and South America

For years, select countries in Africa and South America have required visitors to be vaccinated against yellow fever.

Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease present in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. Symptoms can range from fever and body aches to severe liver disease with bleeding and jaundiced skin, according to the CDC.

Laws surrounding proof of vaccination requirements are governed by the World Health Organization's International Health Regulations, which were established in 1951 and renamed in 1969. The regulations are legally binding for 169 countries.

Under these rules, yellow fever is the only disease for which countries can require vaccination in the form of a WHO-issued yellow card.

An Argentinian national holds his ID card and his international certificate of vaccination, or "yellow card," issued by Argentina's Health Ministry, on January 2008.

If a country is experiencing an outbreak of another disease, WHO may recommend that a country ask travelers to provide proof of vaccination. Currently, the organization recommends that Pakistan and Afghanistan ask adult visitors who haven't been vaccinated against polio since childhood to receive a single adult dose of the vaccine.

Certain countries already require proof of the Covid-19 vaccine

In February, Israel became the first country to launch a digital vaccine-passport program. Called the "green pass," it allows fully vaccinated residents to travel more freely throughout the country than unvaccinated residents. The pass is displayed on a mobile phone as a QR code or as a printed physical document.

And while the US government says it won't introduce federally mandated vaccine passports, that doesn't mean that businesses - including restaurants, gyms, sports stadiums, and other venues - won't require documentation to prove someone has been vaccinated against Covid-19. It also may become required for international travel.

So far, the World Health Organization is not in favour of Covid-19 vaccination passports

At the time of publication, the World Health Organization does not support mandatory proof of Covid-19 vaccination for international travel.

During a UN news briefing on April 6, WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris cited concerns about vaccine effectiveness and discrimination.

"We as WHO are saying at this stage we would not like to see the vaccination passport as a requirement for entry or exit because we are not certain at this stage that the vaccine prevents transmission," WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said.

"There are all those other questions, apart from the question of discrimination against the people who are not able to have the vaccine for one reason or another," she added, seemingly referencing an argument that wealthy countries may have more access to vaccinations than others. Some say vaccine or health passports could lead to travel discrimination, particularly among lower-income people or nations.

WHO is, however, working on a "Smart Vaccination Certificate" that will standardise how Covid-19 vaccinations are recognised and validated across the globe.

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