Before getting on a flight, walking into a stadium or restaurant full of people, would you be willing to prove you’ve had the COVID-19 vaccine to get in?
Tech companies are developing apps for digital vaccine verification, allowing a user to prove their vaccine status on their phone.
Advocates say it could be a tool to restart the economy, encouraging people to resume normal patterns if they are in spaces where others are also vaccinated.
Others want to know how tech companies would protect user privacy.
How would it work?
CLEAR, the biometric security screening company that helps passengers through TSA checkpoints, offers COVID-19 health screening and vaccine verification through CLEAR Health Pass.
“It's a natural extension as COVID-19 has come along for us to say we can also verify certain health data points and health insights,” said Catesby Perrin, executive vice president of growth at CLEAR.
Health Pass connects your identification to biometric data like a photo of your face or a fingerprint. The user can then link health data - including COVID-19 test results or vaccine status.
If a user meets the requirements, the app flashes green.
“Different operators, different venues, your employer, your airline, your hotel, your sports stadium can set their own criteria for what it means for them to operate a safe space so they can meet the local jurisdictional requirements, they can meet their own venue and space requirements,” said Perrin.
Other tech companies are working on digital vaccine verifications too.
IBM is developing Digital Health Pass.
A nonprofit called The Commons Project is working on CommonPass, which is in trials. It would offer a digital way to confirm health status for international travel.
CLEAR recently announced a collaboration with The Commons Project Foundation.
Paper vaccine cards remain the standard
In Texas, there is a state immunization registry where authorized users like health care providers, schools and health departments can access vaccine information. Texans can also use it to request regular vaccine records.
The Texas Department of State Health Services said the state has not discussed deploying the registry as some sort of digital vaccine passport. When you get the COVID-19 vaccine, a provider hands you a paper card.
Health officials continue to caution even fully vaccinated people to take precautions while community spread of COVID-19 remains high.
The CDC says COVID-19 vaccines are effective at protecting people from getting sick and people who have been fully vaccinated can start to resume some activities they’d stopped during the pandemic.
However, the CDC says it is still learning how vaccines will affect the spread of COVID-19 and urges fully vaccinated people to keep taking many of the same precautions.
Dallas County Health and Human Services Director Dr. Philip Huang points out there’s more we need to learn about how long vaccine protection would last.
“People need to still maintain, for us to get this under control, wearing the mask, avoiding crowds, six-foot social distancing, washing your hands,” explained Dr. Huang.
The CDC recently issued guidance for people who are fully vaccinated, saying vaccinated people should still avoid medium or large gatherings and continue to take social distancing, hand washing and masking precautions in many cases.
What about privacy?
If, at some point, you’re asked to use an app to show you’re vaccinated or recently received negative COVID-19 test results, who sees your medical record?
Perrin said, “We can verify that data live at that moment, but only because you, as the individual, have allowed us that access and you control that access. You can revoke at any time, turn it back on, it's fully in your control and your discretion.”
CLEAR also said someone using the app wouldn’t have to show a physical vaccine card or medical record to a stranger.
Restarting the economy post-pandemic
As the vaccine promises to become available to more people in 2021, advocates of digital health passports say the technology offers a way forward for the economy.
John Flynn, VP of Health and Safety at MGM Resorts International, said it is currently piloting the health app from CLEAR as an option for conventions that want to require negative COVID-19 tests for entry.
The user can download the app, fill out health questions and link to COVID-19 test results.
“When we briefed this early on, we had people that were breaking down like, oh my God, I can see a pathway through this,” said Flynn.
Currently, the data does not include vaccine status. Flynn said it’s too early to say if the program would be scaled up to include vaccine verification, but the technology could make it possible – especially as vaccine rates climb.
“It’s cautiously exciting that we get to talk about how we're going to open things up safely and actually being able to envision getting back to whatever this new normal looks like,” said Flynn.
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