COVID vaccinations are rolling out at great speed across the UK and US right now offering hope of a return to normality in the not-too-distant future. But to get back mass sporting and music events, or international travel without causing another outbreak, authorities are calling for proof of vaccination – or at very least, proof of a negative test.
Currently, everyone getting a COVID vaccination is given a paper document as proof – as many social media posts are testament to. In the US, office supply store Staples are offering free lamination of the cards, while others are suggesting taking a picture of it to keep with you, rather than carrying the card itself. While this is fine for local use and small events, for global travel and mass gatherings, something more manageable is needed.
Many countries are now working on a solution that can be easily authenticated online. Often referred to as vaccine passports, these are likely to be apps or cards that can sit in your digital wallet, containing a QR code that can be quickly scanned by boarding gates, door staff or ticket sellers.
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The idea is that a digital solution will make it faster to authenticate and reduce the cases of fake certificates being used. Some countries are already using a form of vaccine passport. Israel (opens in new tab) requires one for use of restaurants and gyms, while Estonia (opens in new tab) and Iceland (opens in new tab) allow immigration with proof of vaccine. Currently, the US is onboard (opens in new tab) and looking to private companies to develop a solution, while the UK is now testing its own passport (opens in new tab).
A vaccine passport is not a new idea. Some countries require proof of vaccination against yellow fever to enter, with stamped certificates having to be presented on entry. We now use digital wallets and apps more frequently in place of physical tickets, boarding passes and membership cards. By doing so we know we always have the information handy, and it can be passed on to the company easily.
Not everyone is in favor of vaccine passports though. While concerns over the increased tracking and storing of data have been rejected the idea of combing this information with other biometrics on a national passport is unlikely. As The New York Times (opens in new tab) discusses in its report, it also has seen calls of perpetuating a class divide, with those unable to get a vaccine or able to prove their identity, increasingly being excluded from society.
Overall though, if digital vaccine passports lead to a return to international travel and social events, I for one am on board.