Let's Get People Traveling Again: Vaccines, Trust and Mastercard Health Pass

By Ajay Bhalla, President, Cyber & Intelligence, Mastercard

Ajay Bhalla

President, Cyber & Intelligence,

The world will slowly start down the road to recovery this year, with vaccinations ramping up, regular travel becoming an opportunity again and local shops bringing in more customers. As world economies endeavor to bounce back from a difficult 2020, there is an opportunity to enable these efforts with digital identity. This isn’t a digital version of your passport or driver’s license – rather it allows you to verify who you are while keeping your personal information private and protected.

This is still an early concept, but it’s already giving people the ability to prove they are who they say they are – whether online or in person – to access government resources or classroom materials. And they’re able to do that as securely as possible, with their data right at their fingertips on their phones.

Looking ahead, we hope it will give people the ability to verify COVID-19 vaccinations and facilitate international travel too. This is just one of a number of areas we’re currently working in.

The many uses of digital identity

Doing all this won’t be easy. It requires a digital identity service that multiple parties – such as banks, government agencies, mobile network operators, educational institutions and employers - can use and trust to ensure interactions are seamless and secure. A few years ago, we recognized this and have been building an alliance of partners, investing resources and using our network expertise to make this vision a reality.

In the last year, we have grown digital identity services across a range of sectors. We expanded our work with Australia Post and Deakin University to verify students taking exams online. We partnered with b.well to bring trust to the exchange of secure healthcare information between doctors and patients. And we helped Optus customers prove their identity online and in-store when buying or upgrading a phone contract.

In each of these cases, we have worked with our partners to provide consumers with a smarter, more convenient and secure way to access the services they need.

Where do we go from here?

In 2020, international economies and many major industries were hurt by the decline in business and tourism travel. It’s now vitally important to find ways to bring back travel during the many months of transition when some – but not most – people will be vaccinated. Doing so will jumpstart the world’s economic engine and spark job creation.

What will likely be needed is an authoritative, verified assurance that it’s safe to travel to another country. This is a complex problem to tackle, but we see digital identity playing an important role. Already, we have seen a number of solutions emerge that can verify vaccination status or track test results. We helped run trials in Glasgow and London Gatwick airports to test the viability of “health passes” for those venues. From that work, we found there are multiple components necessary to create the right set of credentials for an individual wishing to travel.


At the moment, passports, tickets and newly developed health apps perform these functions on their own. To ensure they are useful and help re-energize international travel, it’s essential that these disparate technologies can work together, while allowing the user to retain control of their data.

We’re in this together

Economies, communities and businesses depend on this integration for seamless travel. Building a blueprint that links identity to health status can only happen if business, government and technology providers come together to deliver the best solutions to meet the needs of everyone involved.

At Mastercard, we see our role as an enabler, not unlike the way we currently enable consumers, merchants and financial institutions to transact and interact in a secure, convenient and trusted manner. Over the past half century, we’ve built a global payments network that securely processes more than 75 billion transactions per year for 2.5 billion cards across 210 countries and territories.

Over the course of 2021, we need to make decisions collectively on how to build the new digital world that will shape how we live for the coming decade. Here, digital identity will be an important tool to bring trust and confidence to an otherwise uncertain environment and ensure we set off with the right foundations in place for the future.