By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration is in extended discussions with U.S. airlines and other travel industry groups to provide technical guidance for vaccine passports that could be used to ramp up international air travel safely, industry officials said.
The administration has repeatedly made clear it will not require any businesses or Americans to use a digital COVID-19 health credential, however. It will also publish guidelines for the public.
The key question, airline and travel industry officials say, is whether the U.S. government will set standards or guidelines to assure foreign governments that data in U.S. traveler digital passports is accurate. There are thousands of different U.S. entities giving COVID-19 vaccines, including drugstores, hospitals and mass vaccination sites.
Airline officials say privately that even if the United States does not mandate a COVID-19 digital record, other countries may require it or require all air passengers to be vaccinated.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that the administration would provide guidance “that provides important answers to questions that Americans have, in particular around concerns about privacy, security, or discrimination, soon.”
On March 22, major U.S. airlines and other travel groups urged the White House to “develop uniform Federal principles for COVID-19 health credentials” that would ensure they can “securely validate both test results and vaccination history, protect personal data, comply with applicable privacy laws, and operate across local, state and international jurisdictions.”
Singapore on Monday said it will start accepting visitors who use a mobile travel pass containing digital certificates for COVID-19 tests and vaccines, while Iceland said last month it is opening its borders to all visitors who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 without mandatory testing or quarantine.
Psaki said on Tuesday that the U.S government will not require Americans to carry a credential. “There will be no federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential,” she said.
Psaki noted that there is a push “in the private sector to identify ways that they can return to events where there are large swaths of people safely in soccer stadiums or theaters.”
She added “that’s where the idea originated, and we expect that’s where it will be concluded.”
(Reporting by David Shephardson and Heather Timmons; editing by Jonathan Oatis)