What are 'vaccine passports'? You may soon need these to travel abroad, attend events in post-Covid-19 world
A number of technology firms are already working on developing smartphone apps for individuals to register details of their Covid-19 testing and vaccination
After a long wait, we finally found a vaccine to combat the deadly coronavirus that has claimed more than 1.7M lives the world over and the inoculation has started on a wide scale in the US, the worst-affected nation, along with many other nations. People might have also started hoping that traveling and socializing will soon become a reality once the vaccine has arrived. But in the near future, one might have to apply for a vaccine passport in order to travel.
CNN Business reported on Monday, December 28, that several companies and technology groups have started developing smartphone apps or systems for individuals to register details of their Covid-19 tests and vaccinations, creating digital credentials that could be displayed while entering public places such as concert venues, stadiums, movie theatres, offices or even traveling abroad.
The Common Trust Network, an initiative by Switzerland-based nonprofit, The Commons Project, and the World Economic Forum, has already partnered with several top airlines including Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, Swiss Airlines and United Airlines, besides scores of health systems across the US and the government of Aruba, the CNN Business report said.
"The CommonPass app created by the group allows users to upload medical data such as a Covid-19 test result or, eventually, a proof of vaccination by a hospital or medical professional, generating a health certificate or pass in the form of a QR code that can be shown to authorities without revealing sensitive information. For travel, the app lists health pass requirements at the points of departure and arrival based on your itinerary," it added.
'You cannot be vaccinated every time you cross a border'
The report also cited Thomas Crampton, chief marketing and communications officer for The Commons Project, as telling CNN Business that one can be tested every time he/she crosses a border. "You cannot be vaccinated every time you cross a border," he said. He also spoke about the need for a simple set of credentials, which is also easily transferable, or a “digital yellow card”, referring to the paper document issued as evidence of vaccination.
Giant tech firms such as IBM have already developed their own app called Digital Health Pass. It helps companies and venues to customize indicators they would need for entry, for example, coronavirus tests, temperature checks and records of vaccination. Credentials related to those indicators are stored in a mobile wallet.
After the vaccines are distributed widely, the developers will be faced with challenges such as privacy issues and different effectiveness of the vaccines, the CNN Business report said, adding: "But the most pressing challenge may simply be avoiding the disjointed implementation and mixed success of tech's previous attempt to address the public health crisis: contact tracing apps."
But with varied vaccines developed by companies around the world and which are in different stages of development, the makers of the vaccine passport will also have their task cut out. "A point of entry — whether that's a border, whether that's a venue — is going to want to know, did you get the Pfizer vaccine, did you get the Russian vaccine, did you get the Chinese vaccine, so they can make a decision accordingly," Crampton was quoted as saying. Each of these vaccines has different efficacy levels.
According to Dr Julie Parsonnet, an infectious diseases specialist at Stanford University, it is not clear how effective the vaccines are in stopping the transmission of the virus. He said while a vaccine passport app will show that one has received the shot, it may not be a guarantee that he/she safely gets into an event or onboard a flight.
"We still don't know if vaccinated people can transmit infection or not," she told CNN Business. "Until that is clarified, we won't know whether 'passports' will be effective."
Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Linux Foundation, however, is hopeful that the start and adoption of vaccine passports will take place fast once everything else falls into place.
But there will be questions
The technological development will also raise other questions as well. They could be whether those who choose not to get the shot or are against sharing their medical information will be allowed to attend events or travel overseas. Questions could also come up over the fact that the huge portion of the world’s population still can’t afford smartphones or the internet. Besides, questions could also be raised over the possibility of breach of individual freedom and privacy in the name of public health.
In the US, nearly 20M people have been affected by the virus while more than 338,000 have died.