What are the obstacles in the way of a ‘vaccine passport’?

With all adults in the United States now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines and also opening up to international borders, a fierce debate has begun across the United States over whether a health certificate is necessary. digital (often and somewhat incorrectly referred to as a “vaccine passport”) that must prove vaccination status.

Today, Americans have issued a white paper card as evidence of their COVID-19 shot, but it is easily forged, and online scammer is already selling fake and stolen vaccine cards.

While the federal government says they will not introduce digital vaccine passports through a federal mandate, a growing number of businesses – from cruise lines to energy booth venues – say they will need to proof of vaccination for admission or service. Hundreds of digital health advocacy initiatives are scrambling to launch apps that provide a proven electronic record of vaccinations and coronavirus-negative consequences to speed up the process.

The push has raised privacy and equity concerns, and some states like Florida and Texas are banning businesses from requesting vaccination certificates. But developers argue that digital infrastructure is secure and can help speed up the process of reopening society and revitalizing travel.

Governments, technology companies, airlines and other businesses are testing different versions of the digital health pass and trying to meet common standards so that there is consistency between each system and health records can be obtained at safe and controlled format.

The process poses significant technical challenges, especially due to the many app initiatives that are going on. In order to use certificates, countries, airlines and businesses must agree to common standards and the infrastructure used must agree. In the United States, there is an added complexity in getting individual states to share vaccination data across different certificate platforms while maintaining the privacy of residents.

Here’s what we know about the current state of digital health passes and some of the barriers they face in the United States.

Can I get a passport vaccine?

In March, New York became the first state in the United States to launch a digital health certificate called the Excelsior Pass, certifying the business outcome of a person’s coronavirus and whether they are fully vaccinated.

The app and website, which now has more than 1 million downloads, is free and voluntary for all New York residents, and provides a QR code that can be scanned or printed for verification. a person’s health data. The pass was used by thousands of New Yorkers to enter Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and other small public areas.

Most businesses require people to present their state ID along with their Excelsior Pass to prevent potential fraud.

In Israel, where more than half the population is fully vaccinated, residents must present an electronic “Green Pass” to attend venues such as gyms, concerts and wedding halls and indoors.

The European Union has endorsed an electronic vaccine certificate to be recognized from July 1, which many European countries have started using, but each member country can set its own laws for of travel requirements. Britain has also begun testing a COVID-19 certification system aimed at helping businesses open safely.

Several airlines including Lufthansa, Virgin Atlantic and Jet Blue have started using the digital health app, Common Pass, to verify the test results of COVID-19 passengers before they board flights. The International Air Transport Association’s Health Pass is used by more than 20 airlines and allows passengers to upload the health credentials required for international travel.

It depends on state regulations. The Biden administration says there is no federal or mandated vaccination system. Individual states hold the primary public health power in the United States and have the authority to request vaccines.

“We hope that a vaccine passport, or whatever you want to call it, will be brought to the private sector,” Jen Psaki, the White House secretary, said in a speech in March. “There is no centralized, universal federal vaccine database and no federal mandate that everyone must obtain a vaccination credential.”

In April, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order prohibiting government agencies, private businesses and institutions that receive state funding from asking people to show up to prove they were vaccinated against coronavirus.

Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, issued a similar order, saying that requesting evidence of vaccination “would diminish individual liberty” and “harm patient privacy” as well as create two types of vaccinations. citizenship based on vaccination. ”

But those orders may not last.

“Governors are on shaky legal ground,” said Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. “Certainly, the legislature has the authority to regulate state businesses, and can also prevent counties and local governments from issuing vaccine passports. But a governor, acting on itself, has no power to control businesses except through emergencies or other health powers given to them by the legislature.

Where will the information come from?

In the United States, there is no centralized federal vaccine database. However, states collect that information. All states except New Hampshire have their own vaccination registers, and some towns, such as New York, have their own.

States now have to share their registrations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the data is not public and may be withheld.

That means anyone making a digital vaccination certificate in the United States will have to obtain vaccination data from individual states, which can be problematic in states opposed to health transmission initiatives.

One of the issues is in terminology. A passport is issued by a government and verifies personal data including a person’s legal name and date of birth. Many people fear that if they need to have someone related to the coronavirus, they will give personal and sensitive health data to private companies that could be stolen or used for other purposes.

“There are a whole lot of valid concerns about how privacy and technology work on these systems, especially since Silicon Valley doesn’t have a good history of delivering privacy -enhancing technologies, ”said Brian Behlendorf, executive director of the Linux Foundation Public Health, an open source, technology-focused organization.

“And the concept of privacy here is complicated because in the end you’re trying to prove to someone that you have received,” he said. “You’re not hiding, so the challenge is to show and prove something without creating a chain of tracking forever that can be used.”

The Linux Foundation is working with a network of technology companies called the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative to develop specific standards for preserving the privacy of the use of vaccine certificates. The main purpose of the initiative is to create a verifiable credential (similar to a person’s wallet card) that contains a set of claims about an individual but has digital sourced and cryptographically secure.

Some argue that such a credential encompasses one’s own freedoms and choices in private health.

“‘ Vaccine passports ’should be stopped,” former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, wrote in a tweet last week. “Accepting them means accepting the false idea that the government owns the your life, body and freedom. “

Some are worried that an exclusive digital system will leave some communities, especially those without access to smartphones or the internet.

“Any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people’s privacy,” said Jeff Zients , White House coronavirus coordinator, in a statement.

The World Health Organization said in April that it had not returned asking for vaccination passports for travel because of uncertainty over whether inoculation prevented transmission of the virus, as well as equity concerns. But the organization has partnered with several agencies, such as UNICEF, the International Telecommunication Union and the European Commission, to establish standards and specifications for a possible world -recognized, digital vaccination certificate.

c.2021 The New York Times Company

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