Will There Be Vaccine Passports?

Dear Rich Lifer,

The phrase “vaccine passport” will likely elicit a myriad of responses from people around the world.

For some, the idea of a vaccine passport means freedom — freedom to travel, freedom to see family and friends, freedom to finally go back to bars and theaters.

For others, a vaccine passport is a contentious idea with questions regarding the extent of the vaccine’s protection, abuse of such passports, and the idea of being “forced” to get a vaccine.

Maybe you have strong opinions one way or another. Maybe you aren’t sure what to think about the potential of such a document.

In any case, today, we will attempt to answer some important questions about vaccine passports so we can bring as much clarity to this topic as possible.

What is a Vaccine Passport?

A vaccine passport is a document proving you have been vaccinated against Covid-19. There may also be versions that will be able to show proof of a negative test.

There are versions of the passport being worked on by airlines, industry groups, nonprofits and technology companies. The passport will likely not be a physical object, but rather, something digital you can pull up on a phone through an app or a digital wallet.

Nick Careen, senior vice president for airport, passenger, cargo and security at International Air Transport Association (I.A.T.A), states:

It’s about trying to digitize a process that happens now and make it into something that allows for more harmony and ease, making it easier for people to travel between countries without having to pull out different papers for different countries and different documents at different checkpoints.

In addition to I.A.T.A., IBM has also been developing its own Digital Health Pass that would enable individuals to present proof of vaccination or a negative test to gain access to public locations, such as sports stadiums, airplanes, universities or workplaces.

This Health Pass would be able to use multiple data types from temperature checks, virus exposure notifications, test results and vaccine status.

Why You Might Need a Pass

It seems like the most likely instance for needing a vaccine passport would be related to international travel. In order to travel internationally, governments and health authorities will need to know if you have been vaccinated or have tested negative for the virus. The U.S., for example, now requires a negative coronavirus test for all arriving international travelers.

Such passes would be essential for giving a boost back to the tourism industry. Zurab Pololikashvili, secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, says:

One key element vital for the restart of tourism is consistency and harmonization of rules and protocols regarding international travel. Evidence of vaccination, for example, through the coordinated introduction of what may be called “health passports” can offer this. They can also eliminate the need for quarantine on arrival, a policy which is also standing in the way of the return of international tourism.

As more people become vaccinated, there also may be certain aspects of life or activities that will only be available to the inoculated. Mr. Careen of I.A.T.A. reports that sporting organizations, concert venues and tourism agencies have all reached out for identification tech support.

This Isn’t New

Proving vaccination to enter certain countries or participate in certain activities is not a new concept. For decades now, people traveling to certain countries have had to prove vaccination against diseases such as yellow fever, rubella and cholera.

The proof of vaccination is often called a “yellow card” and is known as an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis.

Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Linux Foundation Public Health, notes:

Everybody who has traveled internationally to countries that require vaccination against malaria, diphtheria and other things has had yellow cards. Parents with kids in public school have had to prove their kids have been vaccinated. This is not something new.

However, some point to a difference between the yellow cards and the vaccine passports being developed, and that difference has to do with privacy and accessibility.

This brings us to some objections to the passports…

Criticisms and Objections

Billions of people around the world aren’t able to prove their identity due to lack of passports, birth certificates, drivers licenses or identification cards. For this reason, a digital document showing vaccination status might heighten inequality.

Additionally, not every single person in the world has a smartphone, which means standardized paper proof will also need to be established to make the idea of passports equitable.

There are also issues with data sharing and privacy. Jenny Wanger, director of programs at the Linux Foundation, is well aware of this problem, stating, “There are ways this could be done right or done terribly wrong and the wrong ways could lead us to a techno dystopia.”

The most important thing in her opinion is to make sure that the tech-building component of these apps is done in the open and doesn’t end up in the control of any singular government or company.

Creating an app that is long-lasting and ethical or a system that won’t store people’s data or track their location takes time.

Drummond Reed, chief trust officer for Evernym, notes:

The global passport system took 50 years to develop. Even when they wanted to add biometrics to that to make it stronger, that took over a decade to agree on just how you’re going to add a fingerprint or a facial biometric to be verified on a passport. Now, in a very short period of time, we need to produce a digital credential that can be as universally recognized as a passport and it needs an even greater level of privacy because it’s going to be digital.

While some exclusive resorts or airlines have begun to reopen with vaccine requirements, there is still a huge challenge to create a document or app that is accepted around the world, protects privacy, and is accessible to people regardless of wealth or access to smartphones.

To a Richer Life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team

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