Looking forward to travelling, shopping, going to the movies? Now that Covid-19 vaccines are beginning to be rolled out around the world, you may now need something in addition to the actual vaccine. Documentation… a vaccine passport.
Documentation, including your current Covid status and vaccination details, will become 2021’s biggest challenge as governments, businesses, and world travel, try and re-establish some sort of workable way forward.
Several companies and technology groups are developing smartphone apps or systems for individuals to upload details of their Covid-19 tests and vaccinations, creating digital credentials that could be shown in order to enter public building, sports stadiums, movie theatres, or even other countries.
One is the Common Trust Network, an initiative by Geneva-based non-profit The Commons Project and the World Economic Forum. Along with airlines Cathay Pacific, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, the new app will allow users to upload medical data and generate a QR code ‘health certificate’ without revealing sensitive information. For travel, the app can lists health pass requirements relating to the countries based on your itinerary.
The next challenge facing the world after populations become more widely inoculated will be privacy issues and representing the effectiveness of the different vaccines. Different apps are tackling these issues in different ways and immigration officials and airlines will have to keep up to date with the various methods of digital ‘covid’ passports in the future.
Of course there’s also a large subset of people that don’t use or have access to smartphones. The Covid-19 Credentials Initiative is also developing a smart card that can easily be updated with the latest information and an online version that’s easier to store.
Still, the real-life implementation, and lack of a worldwide ‘standard’ is going to add to ongoing confusion. Did you get the Pfizer vaccine, did you get the Chinese vaccine, did you get the Russian vaccine, did you get a vaccine developed in the US? The vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm has a reported efficacy of 86% against Covid-19. Vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna each have an efficacy of around 95%.
The CommonPass platform will assess whether a person’s lab test results or vaccination records come from a trusted source and can satisfy the health screening requirements of the country they want to visit.
It also remains unclear how effective the vaccines are in stopping the transmission of the virus. So while a vaccine passport app will show that you’ve received the shot, it may not be a guarantee that you safely attend an event or get on a flight. Like the early days of Covid-19, there will be a steep learning curve and a constant change in the fact pool, mixed in with plenty of spicy conspiracy theories.
Governments and airlines are expecting a variety of apps that can work with each other to be “widely available” within the first half of 2021. IATA, the International Air Transport Association, and most of the larger airlines have already foreshadowed that some sort of digital Covid passport will be necessary before you get on a plane or enter a country in the future.
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