The Race to Covid-19 Vaccine Passports, and Where You Can Get Yours
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A few countries have started issuing Covid-19 vaccination certificates that might allow for both domestic and international travel, subject to their validity. So, what would these certificates mean for entrepreneurs, and how can you get one?
Some of the options include having a printed and certified document, similar to a passport, that can potentially maintain a vaccination history or track vaccinations in general; a printed certificate issued by a certifying authority within a government; and digital technologies such as apps and Blockchain-based systems.
Challenges with paper certificates
With paper-based documents, unless the certifying authority is widely recognized and a uniform template is adopted by governments across the world, their validity could be questionable. It's very easy to forge documents, and while I'm not suggesting people will or can forge vaccination proof en masse, it is possible that desperate travelers could be tempted.
Verification of paper-based documents
Unless a highly secure form of authentication is used on printed papers, it's going to be very hard to keep an accurate track of their authenticity. Imagine if every country in the world started using their own design, layout, size and format for a passport, and how inefficient and challenging things would become.
A digital solution through a blockchain-based digital passport or proof of vaccination and vaccination history is very much possible. In my opinion, the best way to do this would be to have an app that runs on a blockchain network. What this means is that users will be able to see the history of their vaccinations, which has been added to their medical history by a credentialed authority that has been granted permission by the individual. In recent weeks, Denmark has gained traction by launching a new app that tracks vaccinations.
What about Big Tech?
Companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Alibaba have access to user data for billions of individuals around the world. Imagine, for example, Apple being able to develop vaccine-passport technology that would benefit all its customers? In terms of scale, it's very much possible, but whether they will be compelled to do it is the main question. Public companies are answerable to shareholders, and unless initiatives meet their financial objectives, no tech giant will take this kind of risk. There may be a regional play where governments could work with big tech companies in their backyard. The big challenge is trust, and how the privacy of data will be handled.
How can you get one?
Depending on where you reside, you might have access to a Covid passport. Here is a quick summary of who's doing what:
Europe is moving fast on this, and the European Commission is already working on a “Digital Green Certificate." Estonia, UK, Denmark, Greece are all working on a solution. If implemented, the certificate would potentially be rolled out across the European Union, which has 27 nation-state members.
No official push yet from the government, but President Biden's administration has suggested that the private sector and nonprofits should find a way to do this for Americans.
Initial talks have led to criticism from independent groups citing that passports may discriminate and violate people constitutional rights. The country is, however, is reportedly in discussions with other G7 nations to develop a vaccine passport.
China has already created a cross-border Covid-19 passport. This is a digital certificate showing a person’s vaccination status and virus test results. The virus passport is available for Chinese citizens through WeChat.
Bahrain has created a paper-based certificate. The UAE has launched the Al Hosn app that tracks vaccination and Covid data, in addition to advising on pre-eligibility travel requirements for multiple destinations. And the Gulf Countries Cooperation is working on a unified certificate system to track vaccinations.
The International Air Transportation Association (IATA) is working on something called the Travel pass. Singapore has started a first full deployment of the IATA Travel pass App. IBM is working on something called Health Pass, and JetBlue has started testing the CommonPass platform on certain flights.
Governments, legislators and industries at large are presently drinking from a firehose; the implementation and rollout of vaccinations are severely lacking in most parts of the world. Some estimates suggest that at the current rate, it may take more than five years for the whole world to be vaccinated against Covid-19. As manufacturing capacity is pushed, some countries such as Canada are planning to set up local manufacturing facilities for vaccines due to unstable shipments from outside vendors.
The next six-to-12 months could be a period of confusion, while the subsequent 12 to 24 months might lay a foundation for standard Covid passports. Whether digital or physical, some solution is likely, but it may not be before 2025 that it comes together on a global scale.