Vaccine Passports - bring them on, but let's keep it simple

An Opinion - inspired by an article that appeared in The Dope • 1 March 2021

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After a year of rigorous research and development, the creation of various versions of a COVID-19 vaccine has come as a relief to the global population. 

Vaccination programmes are currently being rolled out worldwide (including in Zimbabwe) with an initial focus on health care workers and the vulnerable, and are now becoming widely available to the general public.

So what does this all mean for international travellers?  

Vaccine Passports
There's a great deal of excitement about the introduction of a vaccine passport which stores health information and allows a traveller to display immunisation records proving that they have been vaccinated when moving between countries. 

This is a simple solution to the travel woes that were brought on by the pandemic.  But unfortunately some see it as simply creating another set of hurdles as travel starts to open up again. 

Vaccine passports are not a new concept. They've been used extensively in the past to help battle the spread of contagious diseases like Yellow Fever.  Previously they were issued in paper format, but nowadays they are more likely to be in the form of a digital document/ ID card with a QR code that airports, employers and hotels would be able to scan, proving that the holder has been vaccinated.

This certainly seems to make sense. They will help countries keep track of individuals and their health and will assist scientists in learning about the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Travel health Apps like the World Economic Forum's CommonPass, currently being developed collaboratively in 52 countries, will allow users to access digital vaccination records from healthcare providers, government registries, or from a personal health record. The data will be displayed on an individual’s phone to decrease the risk of hacking. The app is also engineered to detect the authenticity of records and ensure that they follow all the requirements specified by a country that an individual is travelling to. CommonPass will then generate a QR code that will display a vaccination record with an option to withhold any private information. This App is being touted as a major tool to help ease travel around the world and is undergoing trials with international airlines like Cathay Pacific.

IATA (The International Air Transport Association)  is also working on an App. India is developing a smartphone certificate while Israel released its "Green Pass" vaccination passport in late February 2021.  IBM is also trialing a Digital Health Pass - a simple, voluntary, and secure method for showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or certification of vaccination.

However there are some concerns being raised:-

Personal security is one (despite the fact that the developers of CommonPass guarantee that the app will only use essential personal data after user approval). People fear the risk of hacking, corruption and illegal access of the vaccination database. There is the possibility of false certificates being issued for people who haven’t actually been vaccinated.

Also, the fact that the app is digital also raises the question of equal access given that not everyone owns a smartphone. 

Some people are worried about the efficacy of vaccines, and feel that travellers will still be asked to produce proof of a negative COVID test before they travel, or be forced to quarantine (which can be expensive).   

But we need to weigh up the potentially enormous benefits of introducing vaccine passports and getting people travelling once again, against the above concerns.    

What we need are simple, easy to use, solutions for international travel
Right now, the travelling public doesn't need more complexity or extra expense after the frustrations imposed by COVID-19.  We want solutions that are simple to use and accessible to everyone, so that we can all begin a safe and confident return to normal.

We hope that governments and technical innovators are listening!....   PLEASE...bring it on... but keep it simple!

 

We are most grateful to The Dope news platform for providing the inspiration for this Opinon piece via their published online article written by Raavya Bhattacharyya in Jan 2021. 

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