Digital Vaccine Passports Are Coming: Here’s What You Need to Know

April 15, 2021 - 9 minutes read

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Digital vaccine passports have become a contentious topic over the past few months. Whether you agree with their necessity or not, one thing’s become readily apparent: They are coming. But these passports may not take on the shape or format you imagined.

The U.S. government will not be implementing a vaccine passport. Instead, it is handing off the responsibilities of building and enforcing one to private enterprise. The reasoning behind this decision? Private organizations can solve this problem, faster, better, and more efficiently. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be releasing guidelines for how to develop a vaccine passport in the coming weeks. But if you’re eager to get started on developing yours, we’ve got you covered.

In this blog post, we’ll give you a glimpse into our future with digital vaccine passports. We’ll also examine some of the common pitfalls that this paradigm is susceptible to. Lastly, we’ll round up this piece with a checklist that health tech developers should try their best to meet when creating a digital vaccine passport. Let’s get started!

Our (Near) Future With Digital Vaccine Passports

Whether you want to visit a certain country, partake in events like attending a concert, or work in a particular sector, it’s likely that you’ll have to demonstrate that you’ve received your COVID-19 vaccine in the near future. For example, unless they have very good reason to abstain from it, healthcare employees will need to be vaccinated to keep their jobs. This also goes for frontline workers across industries. Companies have the right to fire an employee or forgo renewing their contract if they have not been vaccinated.

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Across the world, many organizations and countries are already taking action to implement vaccine passports and regulations of some kind. For instance, E.U. legislators recently proposed rules for a certificate system to verify the vaccine status of people moving between this union of 27 member countries. While those who pass these checkpoints can travel without the need for quarantine restrictions or additional tests, anyone who fails to comply with these regulations could be denied admittance or forced into quarantine.

While the concept of vaccine passports may seem stringent to some, its success is readily apparent in Israel. The country has issued “green passes” to citizens who are fully vaccinated. With this pass, people are free to eat at restaurants, socialize at bars, and attend concerts or sporting events. Public health experts believe that the country’s vaccine passport implementation has helped tremendously in keeping its COVID-19 numbers down and allowing its economy to reopen safely.

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The arrival of vaccine passports will cause a big shift in society. After all, how do you really prove you’ve been vaccinated? In the U.S., people receive flimsy cards as proof. But these can potentially be forged and possibly lost. Well, that’s why vaccine passports are going digital. But there are still myriad pitfalls to address for this concept to be a success.

Potential Pitfalls of Digital Vaccine Passports

As we’ve alluded to with forgery, security is a prime concern when it comes to vaccine passports. But there’s also the potential issue of non-compliance. People as well as private and even public organizations may not follow the regulations that come with these passports. There’s also the question of fragmentation — as we witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, each state took different measures to stave off this illness from spreading. If you were in Los Angeles, California, you probably had a drastically different experience than a citizen of Miami, Florida.

The problem of non-uniformity in vaccine passports only becomes magnified when you examine the entire world. Different vaccines are being distributed and used around the globe, and what’s permitted in one country may not be allowed in another. For example, China does not accept travelers who received the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Such fragmentation between countries, along with the fact that digital vaccine passports will be developed by different organizations, could make things quite confusing.

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Then there’s the question of time. Currently, there isn’t much data to go off of to see how long the COVID-19 vaccines are effective for. A quick Google search shows that there’s conflicting information regarding each specific vaccine’s efficacy against the COVID-19 variants circulating throughout the world. It’s likely that we’ll need to receive annual booster shots to ensure proper protection against this virus, so we’ll also need to factor in proof of these into passport iterations.

Clearly, several questions must be answered. While digital vaccine passports may differ from one another, there are a few key factors that all of them should possess.

Best Practices for Building a Digital Vaccine Passport

Here are some elements that every digital vaccine passport should have:

An Intuitive User Experience

A digital vaccine passport should be seamless to access and use. It should also enable the passport holder to easily disclose the minimum amount of information needed for verification. This can be difficult since the information required to be disclosed is dependent on the use case.

Privacy Protection Must Be Prioritized

Obviously, digital vaccine passports should be forgery-proof. But that’s only one segment of security in a long list of many. Be prudent and examine each component of your digital vaccine passport and every step required in a verification process. Identify any weak areas and ask yourself how you can strengthen them to ensure complete end-to-end privacy.

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Build Trust Through Credibility and Transparency

Digital vaccine passports must strike a fine balance between information security and transparency. They must also work and be recognized across organizational and jurisdictional boundaries. Your solution should not only be multi-lingual but also credible enough that it’s recognized by various organizations such as airline companies and foreign governments. It should also be transparent enough to pass stringent requirements set forth by these organizations in a timely manner.

Data Portability

At the end of the day, digital vaccine passports are all about data. And developers of these passports must prioritize data portability. Passport holders should have complete control over the data they choose to share. Create your solution with granular data-sharing in mind so that users can easily compartmentalize and choose what information is displayed for various use cases.

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Factoring In the Future

We believe that digital vaccine passports will become an essential part of humanity’s future. With that said, it’s vital for developers of these solutions to plan with the future in mind. This can be difficult to do since nobody knows what the future holds as far as health crises like the pandemic go. But it can help to examine the potential benefits that emerging technologies offer.

For instance, blockchain is a strong candidate for a tech stack that supports vaccine passports. it’s transparent, encrypted, and private. Not only does it store information securely, but you can choose who you share it with. And if you end up needing booster shots in the future to protect against COVID-19 variants, it can easily log that.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this overview of digital vaccine passports. What components would you like to see in these health tech solutions. As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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