Health and tech firms developing digital COVID vaccination passports

Health and tech leaders including Microsoft and Mayo Clinic are developing digital COVID vaccination passports – but privacy groups say they are ‘unfair’ until jabs are more widely distributed

  • An initiative is making a COVID vaccination passport housed in a digital wallet
  • Vaccination Credential Initiative is made of up leading health and tech groups
  • The project wants to make verifying vaccinations as easy as online banking
  • It is working with a nonprofit that made vaccination passports with a QR code
  • Privacy groups say passports are unfair because  jabs are not widely accessible

A coalition of health organizations and technology companies, including Microsoft and Oracle, are working on a project that verifies who has received the coronavirus vaccination and prevent others from making false claims they have.

Called Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI), the venture aims to help people get encrypted digital copies of their immunization records stored in a digital wallet. 

VCI says it is working to make the credentials using the SMART Health Cards specification, which is designed to let people store immunization or lab results in a digital wallet, and could come in the form of a QR code to scan for verification.

However, digital passports and paper credentials are raising concerns among  privacy groups that believe ‘until everyone has access to an effective vaccine, any system requiring a passport for entry or service will be unfair,’ as stated by Privacy International.

‘The vaccine is a public health exercise, and must not be a new discriminator,’ the group shared on its website. 

The group does agree that such records are ‘probably necessary,’ but worries they could ‘open a can of worms.’

‘To what degree does this documentation need to be trusted to be reviewed by other providers? And who else will want access? That is where things get more complicated. And that’s where ambitions lie,’ says Privacy International.

Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI) aims to help people get encrypted digital copies of their immunization records stored in a digital wallet. The initiative is building off of The Commons Project Foundation’s CommonPass (pictured)

VCI does not seem to be looking at its project as being fair, but as a way to help society return to pre-pandemic life and doing so safely.

The initiative is building off of The Commons Project Foundation, which is working on its Common Pass that allows travelers to present vaccination record’s or coronavirus test results when flying and crossing borders in to other countries.

A few airlines, including United Airlines and JetBlue, are currently testing CommonPass. 

Paul Meyer, chief executive of The Commons Project, said: ‘The goal of the Vaccination Credential Initiative is to empower individuals with digital access to their vaccination records so they can use tools like CommonPass to safely return to travel, work, school, and life, while protecting their data privacy.’

However, digital passports and paper credentials are raising concerns among privacy groups that believe ‘until everyone has access to an effective vaccine, any system requiring a passport for entry or service will be unfair

‘Open standards and interoperability are at the heart of VCI’s efforts and we look forward to supporting the World Health Organization and other global stakeholders in implementing and scaling open global standards for health data interoperability.’

VCI includes big names in tech like Microsoft, Salesforce and Oracle, as well as US health care nonprofit Mayo Clinic.

Bill Patterson, an executive vice president and general manager at enterprise software firm Salesforce, said his company wants to help organizations ‘customize all aspects of the vaccination management life cycle and integrate closely with other coalition members’ offerings, which will help us all get back to public life.’

The digital vaccination passports are in anticipation that airlines, stadiums, workplaces and other establishes may soon require proof of a jab prior to allowing entry

‘With a single platform to help deliver safe and continuous operations and deepen trust with customers and employees, this coalition will be crucial to support public health and wellbeing.’

The group foresees the digital passports being vital to air travel and want to make showing verification of a vaccine ‘as easy as online banking.’

However, individuals without smartphones would receive paper printed with QR codes containing the credentials.

In the United States, where vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have been authorized for emergency use, vaccinated individuals receive a vaccination card or printout. 

How long does the Pfizer vaccine take to give immunity? 

 It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. 

This means it is possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.

Regulators said there was evidence of ‘partial immunity’ just seven days after the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. 

But they insisted the best immunity comes seven days after the second dose, which is given three weeks after the first.

It remains a mystery as to how long immunity against Covid lasts for, with top scientists warning that people may need to be vaccinated against the disease every winter, like the flu. 

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