If you want to travel next year, you may need a vaccine passport.
Last Updated on December 30, 2020 by Ephraim Iyodo
Now that coronavirus vaccines are beginning to spread in the U.S. and abroad, many people can dream of the day when they can travel, shop and go to the movies again.
But to do that, they may eventually need something other than a vaccine: a vaccine passport application.
Several companies and technology groups have begun developing apps or systems for smartphones that people can use to upload details of their Covid-19 tests and vaccinations, creating digital credentials that can be shown to enter concert venues, stadiums, movie theaters, offices or even countries.
CommonPass, an initiative of Geneva-based nonprofit The Commons Project and the World Economic Forum, has partnered with several airlines, including Catay Pacific, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss Airlines, United Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, as well as hundreds of health systems across the United States and the Aruba government.
The CommonPass app, created by the group, allows users to upload medical data, such as a Covid-19 test result or eventually proof of vaccination by a hospital or health care provider, generating a medical certificate or pass in the form of a QR code that can be shown to authorities without revealing sensitive information.
For travel, the app lists medical pass requirements at departure and arrival points according to your itinerary.
“You can be screened every time you cross the border. You can’t get vaccinated every time you cross the border,” Thomas Crampton, director of marketing and communications for The Commons Project, told CNN Business.
He stressed the need for a simple and easily transferable set of credentials, or “digital yellow card,” referring to the paper document usually issued as proof of vaccination.
Major technology firms are also taking part in the process. IBM (IBM) has developed its own application called Digital Health Pass, which allows companies and businesses to customize the metrics they will need to enter, including coronavirus tests, temperature checks and vaccination records.
Credentials matching these indicators are then stored in the mobile wallet.
In the early stages of the pandemic, Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) put aside their rivalry with smartphones to jointly develop a Bluetooth-based system to notify users that they have been exposed to someone with Covid-19.
Many countries and state governments around the world have also developed and used their own apps.
“I think where the exposure notification encountered some problems was more piecemeal implementation choices, lack of federal guidance … where each state had to go it alone, and so each state had to figure it out on their own,” said Jenny Wanger, who leads exposure notification initiatives for the Linux Foundation Public Health, a technology-oriented organization that helps public health agencies around the world fight Covid-19.
To promote better coordination this time around, the Linux Foundation has partnered with the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative, a collective of more than 300 people representing dozens of organizations on five continents, and is also working with IBM and CommonPass to help develop a set of universal standards for vaccine ID applications.
“If we succeed, you should be able to say,” “I have a vaccination certificate on my phone that I got when I was vaccinated in one country, with a whole set of my own health management practices that I use to get on a plane to a completely different country, and then I presented the vaccination certificate in that new country so that I could go to that concert that was held in a facility whose attendance was limited to those who demonstrated that they had the vaccine,” said Brian Berlendorf, executive director of the Linux Foundation.
“It has to be as compatible as email, as compatible as the Web,” he said. “Right now we’re in a situation where there are some moving parts that are getting us closer to that, but I think there’s a genuine interest on the part of everybody in the industry.”
Part of ensuring widespread use of vaccine passports falls on a large portion of the world’s population who still don’t use or have access to smartphones. Several companies in the Covid-19 Credentials initiative are also developing a smart card that takes a middle ground between traditional paper vaccine certificates and an online version that’s easier to store and reproduce.
“For us it’s about how that digital credential can be stored, can be presented, not only through smartphones but also in other ways for those people who don’t have access to stable internet and also who don’t own smartphones,” said Lucy Yang, co-lead of the Covid-19 Credentials Initiative. “We’re looking into it, and there are companies who are doing really promising work.