Vaccine passports are coming to Australia. Here’s why and how they might work

Even before any COVID-19 vaccines were invented, vaccine passports for participation in public activities appeared likely. Australia’s plagued vaccine rollout meant such requirements lay in a distant future — until now. But now Australia’s political leaders have begun talking about a two-track future.

By Katie Attwell

Proof of vaccination is already required in contexts around the globe by governments and private companies for people seeking to travel, dine and party.

We can expect a similar scenario here. So how will Australians be able to prove they’re fully vaccinated?

How can I prove I’m vaccinated?

NSW and Victoria are experiencing high new COVID case numbers. Both states have indicated reaching vaccination targets of 70-80% will be required for widespread easing of restrictions.

They’ve also suggested some freedoms will be only available to people who are fully vaccinated.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian yesterday announced freedoms for fully vaccinated people once 70% of the state’s eligible population are double dosed. These include being able to go to hospitality venues, hairdressers and gyms, and have five people to your home.

Attention is now turning to the ways in which these and other Australian governments will require proof of vaccination for entry into public and private spaces.

Currently, vaccinated Australians can access a COVID-19 digital certificate through MyGov or the Express Plus Medicare app.

Those needing proof of vaccination for overseas travel will soon have this linked to their passport chips, along with a smartphone compatible QR code.

For returned travellers, this technology is likely to inform the circumstances under which they quarantine. Fully vaccinated travellers may have less stringent requirements than those who are unvaccinated, so technology to demonstrate this will be necessary.

States are also preparing to require proof of vaccination for local participation in hospitality venues and events. This would very likely be different to the way you would prove your vaccination status for travelling overseas.

New South Wales is set to trial and then introduce a vaccine passport in October.

Vaccination data from the Australian Immunisation Register would be embedded in the Service NSW app, meeting hospitality industry demands for a simple process.

Draft design of vaccine passport in Service NSW phone app
A draft of what a vaccine passport might look like in the Service NSW phone app. Supplied, NSW Government

However, errors in the uploading and registration of data for vaccinated individuals will need resolving to avoid leaving them out in the cold.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced the state will pursue its own version of a vaccine passport.

A “vaccinated economy” to be piloted in regional Victoria will allow only the double-dosed to access events, facilities and services. Again, the hospitality industry supports easy-to-use vaccine passports following their role in reopenings overseas.

What about people who can’t get vaccinated?

Currently, the only formal medical exemption in Australia for COVID-19 vaccines is available on a federal government form. Until now, this form has been used for the country’s “No Jab” policies.

Recently updated for COVID-19 vaccines, it lists a very narrow set of criteria for exemption and can be lodged only by specific medical practitioners.

All levels of government using vaccine passports will need to consider whether other types of exemptions are appropriate or necessary, including for people who have recently been infected with COVID and are advised not to vaccinate for up to six months.

Victoria’s human rights apparatus indicates a wider set of considerations or exemptions may be necessary for those unwilling or unable to vaccinate.

Governments will then need to work out how to manage these exemptions with the technologies they use.

Read more: Could a France-style vaccine mandate for public spaces work in Australia? Legally, yes, but it’s complicated

One common way of managing people who are unvaccinated for any reason is to demand proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

Italy’s vaccination passport uses this alternative, and France’s Pass Sanitaire, or “health pass” has a similar option. Israel’s Green Pass system enables temporary passes for the uninfected, good for 72 hours.

Whether or how these negative tests would be integrated into Australian systems remains to be seen. Pending policies for nightclubs in England and Scotland are set to exclude the “negative test” opt out, meaning only the fully vaccinated will be able to access these venues.

Passenger showing their COVID-19 vaccination green pass at a railway station, Rome, Italy
Many countries, including Italy, already have systems in place for people to prove they’re fully vaccinated. Maurizio Brambatti/EPA/AAP

Some Australian states and regions will be scrambling for technology if they want to go down the vaccine passport route.

The check-in app used in Queensland, Tasmania, the NT and the ACT lacks verification mechanisms and is not designed to hold a vaccine passport.

Western Australia is focused on vaccine requirements for interstate travellers and health-care workers, and so far has made no moves towards requiring vaccines for local activities; nor has South Australia.

Research suggests there’s public support for these kinds of measures in Australia, and there are good reasons to prefer governments introducing the terms of a vaccine mandate rather than private corporations.

However, there are issues of legality, viability and ethics to consider, with venue and individual compliance likely to remain a key issue.

Read more: Would Australians support mandates for the COVID-19 vaccine? Our research suggests most would


Dr Katie Attwell is a Senior Lecturer at The University of Western Australia. She receives funding from the Australian Research Council and the WA Department of Health. She is currently funded by ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award DE1901000158. She is a member of a government advisory committee, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) COVID-19 Working Group 2. She is a specialist advisor to the Therapeutic Goods Administration. All views presented in this article are her own and not representative of any other organisation.


First published at The Conversation, Friday 10 September 2021. Published under a Creative Commons licence.


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6 thoughts on “Vaccine passports are coming to Australia. Here’s why and how they might work

  1. Big Brother is a TV program nowadays but to anybody older than 40 it means a completely different scenario. George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four! One’s actions and intentions are being monitored by the government as a means of controlling and suppressing the will of the populace.

    At the time it frightened the be jiggers out of us and we all laughed about it .

    Take a look around what is happening right now George was RIGHT.

  2. My Daughter just sent me this!!!
    Gladys has already written you off……

    Plans have already been drawn up for a worst-case scenario in the health network. In NSW, doctors and nurses have been told by hospital managers that life-saving support may not be provided, or potentially even be withdrawn, for those with a median age of 72 during the “overwhelming” phase of the current Delta outbreak – which is forecast for late October and early November.

    Exclusive: National cabinet told hospital crisis could last six months | The Saturday Paper

  3. I’m anticipating an effective vaccination passport by 2030, but it will require us to endure, before achieving a successful outcome, a series of monumental cock-ups, in the same vein as the quarantine failures, slothful ordering of vaccines, CovidSafe App, RoboDebt, and the JobKeeper payments to businesses which didn’t need them.

    The successful passport scheme will eventually be developed, on contract and at great expense, by a private information technology company owned by a family member related to a federal government minister, and only after the government’s in- house technicians have failed, and after a senior military officer has had a go at fixing the problems.

    1. As usual you are bang on the money Julian.

      Sadly – as to the failures and nepotism that will undoubtedly be involved.

      I haven’t made my mind up about needing a “passport”. People can get to show their own vaccination record via having their statement/certificate from the Australian Immunisation Register’s website.

      In fact one can go to that website and download a form to post back in to tell the Register to not share details with third parties.

      I wonder whether the government will be considered “third party”

        1. It appears an ‘Immunisation History Statement’ from Medicare’s Immunisation Register can only be accessed if you have a MyGov account.

          So basically, SquirMo and his mate Stuart (Robo) Robert are using Covid as a means to sign everyone up to MyGov so they have information on every aspect of citizens at their fingertips.

          It’s just like the Australia Card voters rejected years ago, but by stealth.

          Editor: And far more pervasive too IMO CLB.

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