SINGAPORE – The World Health Organisation (WHO) can play a lead role in reaching a global consensus for a Covid-19 vaccine passport that could revive international travel, said Indian Health Minister Harsh Vardhan on Thursday (Jan 28).

Dr Vardhan told a virtual session at the World Economic Forum Davos Agenda 2021: “Developing such cross-border mobility experience will require cooperation between the health sector, aviation, travel and tourism sectors as well as other relevant stakeholders. It has to be on a global scale as the pandemic itself.”

Many nations have closed their borders to non-residents since the start of the pandemic in December 2019, disrupting movement of people and decimating the aviation and travel industries.

The roll out of vaccines around the world has prompted nations like Iceland to devise vaccination certificates to ease international travel for those inoculated against Covid-19.

But the idea of a vaccine passport is not wholly welcomed: Greece has backed the idea but France and Germany said it is still premature with so few people vaccinated.

The WHO is also against using such documentation – for the time being.

Dr Vardhan said it is still too early to talk about such a document as there are many unknowns about vaccines, including their ability to reduce transmission, how long immunity lasts and their efficacy against new variants.

However, tech entrepreneur Robin Tombs said that as more people are getting inoculated, data from vaccination exercises will prove invaluable.

“We are going to learn … how much of a risk it is to allow a vaccinated person onto a plane. Are they going to be at risk of transmitting (the virus) even if they are protected to a high degree themselves,” he said.

Mr David Sin, co-founder, group president and deputy chairman of Fullerton Health, said the private health sector can play a role in improving cross-border mobility.

For example, he has come up with a “safe trial piloted versions of vaccine/immunity passports” for some workers across the region.

Mr Sin noted: “This is fascinating because info and data we are receiving in such pilots can serve to be very helpful as governments and public health systems look to implement cross border mobility on a much larger scale.”