After 10 months of waiting and hoping desperately, a vaccination for the COVID-19 pandemic has arrived. Several vaccinations, actually. But large problems remain between people and the solution to the pandemic. First, the logistics of producing enough vaccines and delivering them is giving officials headaches. Poor planning on the part of the federal government has left states scrambling for doses. Beyond that, another problem looms; once a person is vaccinated, how can it be proven? A few tech companies may have the solution for that: an app that serves as a “digital vaccination card,” providing proof of the vaccine.
Proof of Vaccination
In order to curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable in the population, a certain threshold of vaccinated individuals must be met. For the COVID-19 pandemic, that threshold appears to be upward of 70%. This means that over at least 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated in order to stop the virus from spreading. For very easily spread diseases like measles, this percentage is close to 95% – a feat which was attained until anti-vaccination sentiment caused vaccination rates to drop, leading to a resurgence in measles among the population.
So in order to stop the spread of the virus, an aggressive vaccination campaign will need to be enacted. But then what? individuals who want to mix in the population again freely, travel between countries, and attend large events like concerts or games, will need to be able to prove that they have been vaccinated, and therefore won’t infect others. Otherwise, travel and large gatherings will have to continue to be discouraged because there will be no way to know who may be contagious and who is protected. In order to begin introducing these large gathering events and free travel between countries again, the government will have to have a way to prove who can safely mix with others, and who can’t. But tracking vaccinated individuals has proven difficult in the past, for a number of reasons.
ABC7 shares, “‘If we’re successful, you should be able to say: I’ve got a vaccine certificate on my phone that I got when I was vaccinated in one country, with a whole set of its own kind of health management practices… that I use to get on a plane to an entirely different country and then I presented in that new country a vaccination credential so I could go to that concert that was happening indoors for which attendance was limited to those who have demonstrated that they’ve had the vaccine,’ said Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Linux Foundation.
‘It should be interoperable in the same way that email is interoperable, the same way that the web is interoperable,’ he said. ‘Right now, we’re in a situation where there’s some moving parts that get us closer to that, but I think there’s a sincere commitment from everybody in the industry.’
…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.
‘You can be tested every time you cross a border. You cannot be vaccinated every time you cross a border,’ Thomas Crampton, chief marketing and communications officer for The Commons Project, told CNN Business. He stressed the need for a simple and easily transferable set of credentials, or a ‘digital yellow card,’ referring to the paper document generally issued as proof of vaccination.”
What Are the Down Sides of Digital Vaccine Passports?
A lot of the so-called downsides of digital passports come from unfounded fears. Americans are historically paranoid and resistant to providing personal or tracking information to the government, for reasons both real and imagined.
So are there real privacy concerns with a digital vaccination passport? Yes and no. If you’re required to carry a passport for both domestic engagements and foreign travels, it does mean that your movement will be traceable. On the flip side, one could argue that a driver’s license or travel passport provides the same level of oversight. And it’s unlikely that the government is interested in the movement of average citizens – the ones they wish to track, they probably already are.
Others express concerns about their health information privacy being violated, which is a valid concern. But again, the entities whose health is of interest to the government are probably already being tracked. And corporations looking to mine this information for profit arguably have already found ways to do so, so a centralized program with a standard of oversight may actually be safer than the system we have now protecting private health information.
Companies developing apps to meet this need have promised a focus on privacy. Per CNN, “CommonPass, IBM and the Linux Foundation have all stressed privacy as central to their initiatives. IBM says it allows users to control and consent to the use of their health data and allows them to choose the level of detail they want to provide to authorities.
‘Trust and transparency remain paramount when developing a platform like a digital health passport, or any solution that handles sensitive personal information,’ the company said in a blog post. ‘Putting privacy first is an important priority for managing and analyzing data in response to these complex times.'”
Americans are nothing if not resistant to outside intrusion into their lives, so proponents of the passports will have a very hard sell.
Will Proof of Vaccination Be Required Everywhere?
This is a question yet to be answered. Although it’s clear that proof of vaccination will be required for travel between most countries, it’s unclear how this policy would be enacted domestically. It would be in everyone’s best interest to only allow large gatherings or events with vaccinated individuals, but it’s clear that such a roll-out in America may prove nearly impossible. The anti-science, anti-vaccination movement has proven that there will always be a subset of Americans who will refuse vaccines to begin with.
On top of that, many Americans have understandable skepticism surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine because they don’t understand the science and feel that the vaccination was rushed through. The technology for these vaccines has been in development for nearly 30 years, so it’s simply the COVID-19 variant that is new. But a lack of cohesive federal response and an outgoing president who has been resistant to science have provided a mixed and ineffective message to a worried population.
And even if the government can fix it’s messaging and convince an adequate percentage of Americans to get the vaccine, the next step is encouraging people to carry proof of vaccination. In a country with high privacy needs but poor privacy comprehension, this will be a battle as difficult to overcome as the vaccination campaign itself.
But for all that people express a desire to be, “done with,” the pandemic, this is the only viable path forward. As unpalatable as it may be to many, we will have to vaccinate a large portion of the population, and we will have to be able to prove they’re vaccinated before returning to life as usual.