Within the last few months, the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna and the development of vaccines by others  has generated hope of a return to normalcy in 2021, and the elimination of the disease from everyday life. For some, a hallmark of pre-COVID-19 life was international travel and depending on the effectiveness of the vaccines, 2021 is sure to see an increase in international travel. However, it will be quite some time before the vaccine is distributed to the general population as first responders, essential workers, and high-risk populations will receive it first.
As it stands now, travelers, in a lot of instances, need to be tested before flying and again at each international border that allows entry. Once international travel becomes more commonplace, this requirement could cause significant delays, as many countries are not prepared to adequately test native populations, much less an additional influx of foreign travelers who were previously unable, or unwilling, to travel.
A proposed solution to this issue is the integration of vaccine passports with the present credentials required for international travel. A vaccine passport is a digital file located via an app on a smartphone, that can be used to verify vaccination status. Several companies, such as IBM and organizations like the International Air Travel Association (IATA) , have begun developing smartphone apps and systems. The apps allow individuals to upload details of their COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, creating digital credentials that could be shown prior to a flight or at customs checkpoints. The idea of proving vaccination status is not new, as many countries require proof of immunization before entry is allowed and educational institutions require proof of immunization prior to enrollment. However, this new system allows for greater security, as it is less susceptible to forgery compared to a physical immunization record.
Depending on how successful the initial apps are, the possibility for everyday use is high. A vaccine passport may become required to enter offices, universities, sporting events, concerts, and a host of other spaces where social distancing is an issue.
Widespread use of an application holding private health data will undoubtedly raise concerns about privacy and data protection. Even if one assumes privacy concerns would be properly addressed, the use of vaccine passports raises other issues. Most notably, there are issues concerning the equality of access, as some people cannot (or do not want to) use smartphones to access their medical records, and many others simply do not own smartphones. This is especially true for those hardest hit by the pandemic: the elderly, homeless, and undocumented immigrants. Furthermore, the use of vaccine passports for everyday tasks may result in blocking people from ordinary activities on the basis of their vaccination status, which raises serious ethical and legal considerations.
Businesses and business owners will need to evaluate this new technology and its possible use in their existing COVID-19 compliance plans. Currently, many organizations require employees to answer a daily questionnaire concerning their behaviors and possible exposure to COVID-19. It is not a stretch to imagine those same organizations will require employees to show proof of vaccination via a smartphone app or showing proof of vaccination upon workplace entry. In any event, business owners and employees alike will need to consider the possible use of this technology going forward.
Information about the development of vaccine passports may be found here: https://commonpass.org/
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