02 Aug Vaccine Passport: The Reality and the Roadblocks
With Covid’s highly contagious Delta variant raging across the country, the debate over a vaccine passport has amped up. A digital health certificate/vaccine passport required to prove immunization status is controversial, but it’s gaining momentum. Danny Meyer, owner of a number of well-known restaurants in New York City and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, including Shake Shack, is requiring employees, drinkers and diners to show vaccination status before they can enter his restaurants. The biggest challenge to normalizing a vaccine passport? It’s data privacy.
Big brands are stepping up
Disney and Walmart, Google and Facebook, Morgan Stanley and Saks, The Washington Post, Lyft and Uber. These influential companies span a few industries, which means that other businesses in their sectors will follow. The reality is that after a year of masking up and locking down, consumers want to get back to a normal life. A growing number of businesses — from cruise lines to sports venues — say they will require proof of vaccinations for entry or services.
What we can learn from other countries: In Paris it’s pay for play
If you want to go to the Eiffel Tower, you have to show your vaccination status, your le pass sanitaire, or health pass. Visitors who turned up at the Eiffel Tower without proof of vaccination were offered on-the-spot Covid tests. Starting in August, the health-pass requirement will be extended to adults at restaurants, cafés, shopping centers, “as well as for travel by plane, train and bus for long-distance journeys,” according to the app’s website.
Digital health pass initiatives will be driven by the private sector
The Biden administration has said there will be no federal vaccination system or mandate. Individual states hold primary public health powers in the United States and have the authority to require vaccines. According to Jen Psaki, White House press secretary,“ We expect a vaccine passport will be driven by the private sector. There will be no centralized, universal federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.”
Challenge for apps: Compatibility among systems and health records
These apps will provide a verified electronic record of immunizations and negative coronavirus test results to streamline the process. The drive has raised privacy and equity concerns and some states like Florida and Texas have banned businesses from requiring vaccination certificates. These certificates can be forged and scammers are already selling false and stolen vaccine cards. Governments, technology companies, airlines and other businesses are testing different versions of the digital health passes and are trying to come up with common standards so that there is compatibility among systems and health records.
New York became the first state to launch a digital health certificate
New York’s Excelsior Pass verifies people’s negative coronavirus test result and if they are fully vaccinated. There have been 1M+ downloads—New Yorkers use it to go to Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and other public venues. Most businesses require showing state I.D. along with the Excelsior Pass to prevent potential fraud. Some airlines have started a digital health pass, the Common Pass, including Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic and Jet Blue Common Pass, to verify passenger Covid-19 test results before they board flights.
Opposition to the vaccination mandate centers around data privacy
“There are a whole lot of valid concerns about how privacy and technology would work with these systems, especially as Silicon Valley does not have a great history delivering technologies that are privacy enhancing,” said Brian Behlendorf, executive director of Linux Foundation Public Health, an open-source, technology-focused organization. Others worry that an exclusively digital system would leave some communities behind, especially those who do not have access to smartphones or the internet.
“Any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy,” Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus coordinator, said in a statement. The World Health Organization does not support requiring vaccination passports for travel yet. It is working with agencies like UNICEF and the European Commission to establish the standards and specifications o f a globally recognized, digital vaccination certificate.
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