Since the first rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations, dozens of countries have started developing so-called ‘vaccine passport apps’. The European Union has also announced the launch of a Digital Green Pass certificate on 21st June, which should allow easier travel for vaccinated people.
Here, we look at the key questions regarding COVID passports and lay out the facts.
What is a vaccine passport?
Put simply, a vaccine passport is a document – either paper or digital – that shows if a person has received the COVID-19 vaccination. In some countries like Denmark, it is also planned that it will show if a person has tested negative for COVID-19 in the last 72 hours, or have recovered from it in the last 180 days.
It should not be confused with a vaccine card, which is the document given with the vaccine. Many early versions of vaccine passports were simple paper documents; however most new versions are now smartphone apps that can be checked through a barcode or QR code.
When will COVID passports like the Digital Green Pass be used?
The primary use of vaccine passports in most countries will be for international travel. This will be a vital action to avoid the spread of the virus, and to stop new variants from developing. In fact, many countries required mandatory vaccinations for specific diseases prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, including for yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A.
However, they could also be used outside of travel – such as for visiting restaurants, or attending large public gatherings such as concerts and sporting events. In practice, the user would simply open the app and show the QR code when requested. When it is positively recognized, they would be cleared to travel or enter the place of business.
What technology is used in a vaccine passport app?
It depends on the country. Some proposed apps work by storing the necessary data – including the individual’s name, date of birth, post-code, and date of vaccination or recent test – on a QR code which can be scanned and validated. Other European solutions include scanning the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) to check the information.
What about data privacy?
While there are undoubtedly many benefits to vaccine passports, many are concerned about the risk of personal data being mishandled. The goal of so-called ‘COVID passports’ such as the Digital Green Certificate system should be to prove a person has been vaccinated and is safe to travel or enter a space, without unnecessarily putting personal information at risk.
It is therefore vital that any COVID passport solution is capable of offline scanning, rather than depending on a server-side system, which would needlessly put data at risk of interception by 3rd parties. This is a requirement of the European eHealth Network’s Trust Framework.
As ever, countries should ensure that any new digital solution they develop for citizens is in line with existing GDPR regulations, and if they are working with external data capture solution providers, it is also essential that these vendors adhere to the highest data security practices, and are ISO 27001 certified.
Will COVID passports be mandatory?
It is safe to assume that for international travel, proving you have had a COVID-19 vaccination could become a standard requirement in the near future for many countries. As mentioned above, this is already the case for many other diseases like yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A.
But for other uses going out, or attending events, there will be considerable variation between countries, and regions. Currently, such measures would be the exception rather than the rule.
Is Smartphone Scanning Safe for Health Data Capture?
In the past decade, smartphone-based data capture has become increasingly popular for businesses and consumers as a fast and convenient way to perform everyday tasks. Everything from energy management to checking into a hotel, to police work and even opening a bank account can now be completed on a standard smart device.
However, it is reasonable for users to be concerned about the security of their personal health information, and therefore vital that the data-capture technology used is from a proven and trusted vendor.
For example, when LEAD Horizon developed a home COVID-19 test kit, they needed a way to collect accurate ID data to confirm the identity of each user to create a validated test. They partnered with Anyline to integrate secure MRZ and driver’s license scanning into their web app, enabling users to safely register themselves through their own laptop.
Further afield, the Nobel Prize-winning World Food Programme also chose this solution to empower their aid workers to deliver food aid more efficiently in the field. Given the remote locations of their work, it was essential to have a digital solution that could validate ID information on a standard smartphone device even in areas without internet access.
Vaccine passports are still a very new phenomenon, and new information and regulations regarding their functions and roll out are being published all the time. For international travel, it is safe to assume COVID passports will become a necessary part of life, while other uses are still being debated and will vary between countries. What is essential is that any digital solutions balance the protection of people’s health with the protection of their data.