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article imageHow might a vaccine passport work and do you need one? Special

By Tim Sandle     Feb 15, 2021 in Health
Does a vaccine passport offer a gateway to 'freedom' in terms of accessing travel and hospitality, or does it herald in privacy and security concerns? A leading expert weighs in.
There are bound to be advocates on either side of the digital vaccine passport debate, given the advantages that digital data provides coupled with some of the data breach scandals that have impacted upon medical records in general. To add to this, there are questions over data - what type, how much, and for what purpose? - to contend with.
To gain an insight into the merits and complications of vaccine passports, Digital Journal caught up with Janer Gorohhov, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Veriff.
Digital Journal: How important is it for those vaccinated to signal to the wider world their immunization status?
Janer Gorohhov: As countries around the globe look toward reopening borders, workplaces and the hospitality industry, many are already talking about requiring travelers and/or workers to confirm their health and COVID-19 vaccine status. In this sense, it will be advantageous for the public to be able to share this information, perhaps in the form of an app or digital certificate, if they would like to return to some sense of normalcy. Having a single, uniform way of proving this for the travel industry is especially important if we hope to see the industry recover this year.
DJ: What is meant by a vaccine passport?
Gorohhov: A vaccine passport is a digital app or document where travelers can indicate if they’ve been vaccinated, in this case for COVID-19. Information about a person’s vaccination and test results can be added to their digital health record, which could be accessed by a smartphone or tablet. The data can then be pulled out upon request, for example at the airport as people are traveling.
DJ: Can the concept also be applied to recent COVID-19 test results and other health issues?
Gorohhov: I do think a successful digital vaccine/health passport program will be helpful in setting the stage for a larger digital identity movement for testing and other health issues. While the concept can certainly be applied to other areas, if it fails either because of data privacy breaches or misuse it will lead to a loss of people’s trust and that will likely impact the adoption of other passport solutions. For those hoping to travel or move around before they’re vaccinated, the idea of digital proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test could help this.
DJ: Would the passport be purely digital?
Gorohhov:It’s important to take into account that there are still many people that do not have access to the internet or smartphones. Therefore, when thinking of a global solution, we need to consider both digital and non-digital solutions. However, I do think it makes the most sense to first roll out a digital solution - be it an app, QR code or a document in your Apple Wallet that you can present upon request. This is a safer, more secure solution that can help to build trust among both consumers and businesses, as physical documents are easier to forge. Only then can we think of implementing complementary paper-based systems.
DJ: Should tech companies collaborate with vaccine passport app development or go their own way?
Gorohhov:I believe health passports should be developed in collaboration with a state/country and private entities. People’s incentive to keep their data updated and accurate in government records is often driven by the fact that it is the source for the state or local governments to assess whether the person is eligible for some public service or support - thus, they typically have the most up to date information, and it is likely the most protected. Private companies can also be granted access to some of the data but consumers may have more concerns around security, privacy, and transparency. In case private companies do have access to any personal data, (in this case information about vaccinations), then people have to have full transparency about how or for what reason their data is being used.
DJ: Are there any cybersecurity concerns with such an idea?
Gorohhov:Yes. It will be vital to keep people’s data safe and protected when it comes to digital identity and confirm that people are who they claim to be - we will need to ensure that the person presenting the health passport is the actual owner. To accomplish this, people must be fully in charge of their digital identity and have transparency and insight into who has access to their data and what they are using it for, whether it is on an app or online platform.
DJ Do such vaccine passport apps need to be regulated?
Gorohhov:As of now, there is no global standard for vaccine passports, so each country is developing its own systems, standards, and regulations. In this race to roll out passports, countries that already have a digital identity system in place are a step ahead of other countries. In Estonia, for example, almost all adults (and a majority of children) have an ID-card that unlocks many e-services. So with the pandemic, when someone is vaccinated or has recovered from COVID-19, these records are automatically part of their e-health medical records and available upon request. This system has worked well for us in Estonia, and we learned early on that identity verification will play a large role in scaling safe travel and reopenings.
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