New York State is working with IBM to develop the Excelsior Pass to provide digital evidence of COVID-19 vaccination. Chris Delmas / AFP via Getty Images Hide caption
Chris Delmas / AFP via Getty Images
Chris Delmas / AFP via Getty Images
A political debate has broken out over the idea of requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for entry into certain environments. While politicians argue over justice and privacy concerns, some companies and institutions are developing apps that people can use to easily and securely prove their status.
For example, when students return to Cornell University for the fall semester, they must be vaccinated for medical or religious reasons with exceptions.
“We want the most normal semester we can,” explains the university’s provost, Michael Kotlikoff. And he says the best way to do this “really is to achieve herd immunity that protects everyone” so that activities in dorms, classrooms and on campus can resume.
Duke University, Rutgers University, and Brown University have made similar announcements.
Schools and colleges have long required proof of vaccination for diseases such as measles and mumps. Kotlikoff says this requirement is similar.
And while the vaccine is new, and so far only approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration, Cornell has decided to use it for its students. “We have taken legal advice on this and consider it to be justifiable and appropriate,” he says.
Some other institutions are hesitant to decide whether to prescribe the vaccine until they receive full FDA approval.
As the cruise industry seeks a fresh start, both the Norwegian and Royal Caribbean have announced some vaccine requirements to keep passengers safe.
If some institutions and companies require vaccination, then how will they ask people to provide evidence or certification of immunity? The von Biden government has ruled out federal vaccination certificates, so it is up to the private sector to develop their own systems.
Some, like Royal Caribbean, accept paper documents such as: B. The vaccination card that you will be given when you receive your shot. Miami’s NBA basketball team, Miami Heat, has announced that it will house vaccinated fans at games in their own area and that fans can prove their status by showing their paper vaccination card, according to the AP.
However, paper records can be lost or forged if someone tries to play the system. There are a number of efforts being made to use technology to certify vaccination status.
Cornell University plans to expand the use of a digital app developed at the university at the beginning of the pandemic. Students are already using the app to share COVID-19 test results, and the app has a feature that allows them to upload their vaccination status, says Kotlikoff.
The World Health Organization has set up a working group on the certification of intelligent vaccinations that will help create common standards for digital vaccination certificates that cover privacy, security, authentication and data sharing. These efforts affect not only COVID-19 vaccines, but other vaccinations as well.
And later this month, the Vaccination Credential Initiative, a coalition of health and technology organizations including IBM and Microsoft, plans to release “Implementation Guides” for verifiable vaccine IDs.
New York State has piloted a Health Pass initiative called Excelsior Pass, which was developed in partnership with IBM.
“The digital health passport is an electronic version of the index card you receive when you receive your full vaccination,” said Tim Paydos, vice president, government industry solutions, IBM. Given that paper records can be misplaced or forged, the digital passport offers an advantage. He says it’s a free, voluntary, and convenient way to share your COVID-19 vaccination or testing status.
In the event that a sports stadium, university, cruise ship or airline needs proof of vaccination or a negative test, a digital health passport could make the process easier, according to Paydos. He compares it to TSA PreCheck: when you log in, you can quickly walk through the security line. So when you get on a cruise ship or plane and want to share your status, you will get a QR code on your phone to share.
As an alternative – for those not using a smartphone – users could print out the confirmation on a piece of paper.
Given privacy concerns, the New York Health Passport is based on block-chain technology, which uses encryption to query a vaccine database. “There is no exchange of personal information,” says Paydos. “All information stays with the state.” Once a person signs up to use the passport and wants to show certification, the electronic system can check their status without transferring their private information.
“We only ask for the vaccine register in encrypted form. [Has this person] actually been vaccinated? And the answer comes back, yes or no, “says Paydos. The only thing that comes back on your phone is a checkmark with a QR code on it.
It remains to be seen to what extent tools such as a digital health pass will catch on. Certification programs face barriers, including concerns about justice and people’s resistance to sharing their vaccination status.
Given that the vaccines are new and have not yet been fully approved by the FDA, some legal and public health experts say people shouldn’t be forced to provide evidence of vaccination.
“There must be a fair balance between public health, individual choice and other aspects of society and health,” said Efthimios Parasidis, professor of health management and policy at Ohio State University College of Public Health.
He says there are several ways employers, venues, cruise lines, or airlines could help ensure a safe environment while still giving people choice. “It may be acceptable for people to have either a vaccination record, a negative test, or a recent episode of COVID,” says Parasidis. “There are many different options.”
Health correspondent Allison Aubrey is on Twitter at @AubreyNPR