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Vaccination digital passport: how the digital pass will work for the Covid-19 world

Photo: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

Photo: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay

A digital vaccination passport may soon become a necessity for international travel or attending public events. We are telling about what it is and how it will work.

Digital Covid-19 passports will become a continuation of the mass vaccination that has already started in many countries of the world. They will include data on vaccines and/or test results for Covid-19. Several countries have already implemented pilot projects for the creation of such vaccination passports, among them are Israel, Hungary, Denmark. Ukraine also plans to create its own online registry of citizens who received the vaccine. However, it is not yet clear if this registry will interact with the global digital Covid-19 passport system.

Vaccine Credential Initiative— an alliance for creating digital Covid-19 passports

Recently it became known that several of the largest technology firms have allied with official structures into a group called the Vaccine Credential Initiative. As a result of its work the task for providing access to digital records of Covid-19 vaccinations through a special digital vaccination passport will be implemented.

The Vaccine Credential Initiative includes Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, Cerner, Cigna Evernorth and a host of other technology and healthcare companies. Their goal is to create a tool that will be used in situations where it is necessary to provide data on both the Covid-19 vaccination and other information related to this disease.

Such data may be needed in different cases— from airports to hospitals or schools, they will help many countries return to their normal lives. Accordingly, information about a person's Covid-19 vaccine can become a conditional pass for attending events or traveling.

The main goal of the Vaccine Credential Initiative is to enable people to get an encrypted digital copy of their immunization data to store in a digital wallet. The Vaccine Credential Initiative is slated to work with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that the digital vaccination passport eventually becomes available globally.

How a digital passport will work

The solution created by the Vaccine Credential Initiative should be one, unified and available for all organizations—laboratories, clinics, hospitals that provide vaccination, as well as for ordinary people for whom the Covid-19 vaccine will become a conditional pass to everyday life.

It is known that the Vaccine Credential Initiative developers are planning to use the open source standard model. Employees of clinics that provide vaccinations will be able to enter data into it.

The technical specifications of the future project have already been made public. Information about vaccinations will be stored in the form of a global database, and a mobile application installed on a smartphone—the very digital passport—will be used to store the data of a particular person.

The data in the digital passport will be protected by cryptographic signatures and linked to credentials and keys stored on the user's device. A demonstration of how the future digital vaccine passport will work is available here here.

First, the user will need to install the application Health Wallet and connect it to a laboratory account (an organization that vaccinates or makes Covid-19 tests).

From there, the Covid-19 results card (current tests and vaccination data) will be loaded into the app. To provide this information to the inspector, for example, at the airport, it will be enough to open the application and give them the opportunity to scan the QR code from the application.

Next, it will be needed to agree with the data provision from the electronic passport of the organization the inspector belongs to, for example, the airport.

The Commons Project and CommonPass

The prototype of future vaccination passports can be the already working CommonPass electronic passenger passport, created by The Commons Project Foundation and the World Economic Forum. So far, the project is at the testing stage. Its main purpose is to provide confidence that the traveler's data on the PCR test or vaccine received is reliable.

With CommonPass, people can access their laboratory results and vaccination records, while consenting to use that information to confirm their Covid-19 status, but without disclosing other health data.

CommonPass will assess whether laboratory results or person’s vaccination data are obtained from a reliable source and meet the requirements for travelers established by the country they wish to travel to.

In other words, the system allows you to answer whether a person can enter a specific country and whether his CommonPass contains reliable data confirming this right to entry. Other health details are not disclosed.

Paul Meyer, CEO of The Commons Project, a nonprofit public trust, explaines:

Quote"Vaccination data must be kept in some standardized form so that when you submit it, people really understand that you, for example, received a vaccine from Pfizer."

Challenges for Covid-19 digital passports: data reliability and digital divide

According to Meyer, the Covid-19 vaccination record must also be verifiable and secure so that third parties, like the CommonPass owner himself, cannot falsify the vaccine information.

Pavlo Belousov, an expert on digital security at Internews Ukraine NGO, considers people who will have access to this database to be the main threat to the data reliability.

Mainly, we are talking about laboratories that test for Covid-19 and enter this data. Through these people and these devices, unauthorized access to this database can be obtained and changes made to it.

Pavlo Belousov

Pavlo Belousov

Expert on digital security at Internews Ukraine NGO, project Digital Security School 380

Against the background of the fact that the business of creating fake certificates of passing the coronavirus test has been working for a long time, a unified international vaccination passport could increase the credibility of a particular user's data.

Another possible problem with the digital passports introduction is the digital divide—people who do not have a smartphone will not be able to conveniently access their digital vaccination record. The Vaccine Credential Initiative plans to provide these patients with a paper certificate with a printed QR code invoking its entry in the global database.

Digital passports: international experience

Experiments are already being conducted around the world regarding uniform access to vaccination data. For example, Los Angeles authorities are planning to allow recipients of the Covid-19 vaccine to keep records about this in the digital Apple Wallet on their iPhone. And in Spain it is planned to create a registry of those who refused to receive the vaccine.

In China, a special application with a health code that shows a person's Covid-19 status has been launched. And in Chile, those who have already been ill with coronavirus are given special certificates.


Legal nuances

The issue of the digital Covid-19 passports legality was commented on to The Page by the lawyer of Ilyashev & Partners, Alla Tsymanovska.

She recalled the words of the Minister of Health Maksym Stepanov that mass vaccination should begin in Ukraine in February, as a result of which Ukrainians, like EU citizens, will receive a "Covid passport".

The expert emphasizes that today Covid-19 vaccination is not mandatory in Ukraine. At the same time, individuals who do not make a vaccine and do not get an appropriate "Covid passport" may incur certain restrictions both when traveling and when receiving services within the country.

Alla Tsymanovska
Alla Tsymanovska
attorney at Ilyashev & Partners

The state cannot force vaccines to be made on a mandatory basis and cannot limit the provision of certain services to unvaccinated persons, since this requires making certain decisions at the legislative and constitutional level.

Now each country imposes certain restrictions, so having a "Covid passport" will provide convenience and rapidity in the border crossing process. Those who have not been vaccinated, depending on the rules of the particular country, will have to undergo testing or quarantine. At the same time, there may be an easier entry mechanism for vaccinated persons.

Although a number of countries around the world are introducing "Covid passports" for their citizens, not all states support the idea of their introduction, added Tsymanovska. In particular, the German authorities have raised concerns about discrimination against people who have not yet received the vaccine.

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