Honorable Mention Chapter Award
Honorable Mention Chapter Award

Vaccine passports gain steam

Oct 1, 2021, 13:14 PM by Michael Pinchera
Proof of vaccination against COVID-19 is being adopted as an entry requirement by some major players in the meeting and event industry.

Six months ago, did you realize how important a piece of cardstock in your purse or wallet could become? Indeed, that vaccination card, ubiquitous throughout the U.S., an item that many early on viewed as simply a receipt or appointment reminder, is increasingly transforming into an essential travel document.

It certainly appears that mandating vaccination and/or requiring negative test results are becoming more widely accepted and can reasonably be expected to continue popping up throughout daily life at least until the pandemic is resolved. For instance, this month, the above requirements went into effect for anyone in Los Angeles County wishing to enter indoor bars, restaurants, entertainment venues or outdoor events in excess of 10,000 attendees.

Beyond localities requiring so-called “vaccine passports,” some event professionals are stepping up to ensure their in-person events are as safe as possible by mandating proof of vaccination.

Although any tracking or tracing tech can raise concerns about privacy, unprecedented times, such as the pandemic, can cause people to more openly embrace such developments. You’re probably less concerned about a giant tech corporation knowing that you went to a Starbucks twice yesterday than you are about wanting to know if/when you came in contact with a COVID-positive person at an event.

Giving people confidence

Early last month, the IMEX Group announced proof of vaccination would be mandatory for all participants onsite at November’s IMEX America—a negative COVID-19 test will not be sufficient. It’s also incredibly important for the show that next month the U.S. travel ban is being lifted for vaccinated travelers from Europe and the UK. Hopefully, this will happen early in the month.

While it’s not yet known if some current COVID-19-related mandates—such as masking for vaccinated people when indoors—will still be around, the IMEX team is focused on ensuring that participants not only feel as safe as possible, but actually are as safe as possible. This extends beyond proof of vaccination, affecting the actual physical design of the event such that no one feels crowded.

“We’ve really put a lot of thought and effort into making sure that it’s a super comfortable experience for people,” said Carina Bauer, IMEX Group CEO. “If [participants] want space, they’ll be able to find space.”

When IMEX announced the vaccination requirement, Bauer was at SITE Classic in Southern California and throughout the show, people came up to her to express gratitude for the decision.

“At the end of the day, we made that decision after talking with [stakeholders]…that this is what would give people the most confidence in coming to the show,” she said. “We feel really confident that we can create a safe-as-possible environment within the scale of the show that we do.”

Of course, some people have expressed their disagreement with the proof-of-vaccination requirement.

“Some people have very reasonable reasons why they can’t get the vaccine—and it’s really a regret for us that we have to be so strict on it,” she said. “But it’s important to carry it through properly.”

A couple of weeks after the IMEX America announcement, ASAE shared that participants for any/all of the association’s forthcoming in-person events must have proof of vaccination.

“ASAE’s first priority in all meetings and events decisions is the safety and welfare of our attendees, exhibitors, partners and team,” the association stated when announcing the proof of vaccination mandate. This move was made “in order to enable in-person events to take place with lower risk to participants…based on guidance and recommendations issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health authorities. The COVID-19 vaccines approved by the FDA for emergency use authorization and the vaccines that the FDA has fully approved have been determined to be critical in reducing the community prevalence of COVID-19.”

In addition to the proof of vaccination, attendees at ASAE live events will also have to submit an Acknowledgement of Personal Responsibility.

“ASAE’s proof of vaccination policy is designed to create exceptional, safe experiences for attendees and participants at ASAE meetings and events,” the group’s statement concluded.

ASAE will accept app-based verification as well as digital and paper proof of vaccination. This is a solid effort to make proof-of-vaccination as accessible as possible, while putting on in-person events that are as safe as possible.

Safety in action

There are many different options for cataloging and verifying vaccination status of stakeholders. Some countries have their own apps—as do some local municipalities. If you haven’t already taken a photo of both sides of your vaccination record, to be saved and accessible digitally on your mobile phone, do so now. Of course, more robust options have been appearing.

One more secure example cited by ASAE is VaccineCheck, a process that takes user-provided vaccination data, verifies it and then generates an authenticated digital vaccine card. This sort of service—verifying vaccination data rather than simply trusting a paper record—will further safeguard stakeholders and prevent those with fraudulent vaccine records from accessing your events and potentially spreading SARS-CoV-2.

IMEX America announced that for U.S.-based participants, it is utilizing the CLEAR tracking system, which already counts meeting professionals among its user base thanks to CLEAR’s well-known expedited travel screening program. The CLEAR digital vaccination card is free and easy. Download the CLEAR app, upload government-issued ID and connect to the digital records of your vaccine provider or upload a photo of your vaccination record. That’s it. (Read the complete IMEX America health and safety plan.)

Mark Mulligan, director of operations for IMEX, says their team spoke with numerous event organizers and venues and it was obvious that CLEAR is one of the pre-eminent suppliers in this space.

“Frequent travelers are familiar with CLEAR, as well, so it was in some ways a relatively easy decision,” Mulligan said. “It’s a well-established system. I think it’ll be an easy process for people—and we plan to communicate it very clearly and repeatedly to make it as easy as possible upon arrival.” 

Since CLEAR is established only throughout the U.S., international IMEX America participants will need to show proof of vaccination through Safe Expo, which operates in much the same way as CLEAR—it verifies a person’s ID and vaccination status and provides an approval email that can be shown onsite.

“The difference is it’s a web-based app,” not something that requires users download an app from iTunes or Google Play, Mulligan says.

There’s no cost for attendees to use either CLEAR or Safe Expo. However, Mulligan notes, “There is a modest [per-user] cost for us” to utilize these safeguards.

Vaccination verification will be available onsite for IMEX America participants who haven’t previously done so.

“We’re working with those two entities,” Mulligan said. “CLEAR will bring their own representatives, who are obviously well-versed in looking at credentials and navigating the process. With Safe Expo, we’re planning to use one of their partners to assist with this process. We’ll have both available, depending on what your needs are, which vaccine you used and which country you’re coming from.”

For those concerned about privacy, it’s worth noting that neither of these options tracks your movements by default.

“All it’s doing it verifying the vaccination, type and certificate against an ID to make sure it’s a verified vaccine and that it matches your ID,” Bauer said.

Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 PCR and antigen tests will also be available onsite (at participants’ expense). In fact, Mandalay Bay already offers in-room COVID-19 testing—so if you are onsite and experiencing symptoms, you can be tested in your guest room without potentially exposing others. Those unwilling or unable to be vaccinated will still be able to experience much of the event’s content via live broadcast.

All of these efforts that will be showcased in action during IMEX America combine to provide a legitimate glimpse into the future of in-person events and evolving public health standard operating procedures.

Education now!

For greater insight and knowledge surrounding COVID-19-related safety issues, sign up for the MPI Academy’s Pandemic Meeting & Event Certificate program today!

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