The race to build COVID-19 vaccine “passport” credentials is underway, with the Biden administration saying it will issue guidance for those developing them.
Several groups are competing to develop new technology showing proof of vaccination that governments and businesses may use to admit or deny someone’s travel or entrance into a venue.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the Biden administration expects the private sector to develop vaccine passports and its forthcoming guidelines can be used as a basis for developers.
Skeptics of the vaccine passports abound, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who spoke out against the passports and said he would issue an executive order preventing businesses and others in his state from requiring passports.
Several companies and groups are not waiting for government guidance to develop the vaccine passport tools. IBM has designed a Digital Health Pass, which the company said uses blockchain technology for vaccinated individuals to share their health status through an encrypted digital wallet on their smartphones that the company said does not share personal or medical info.
Blockchain technology is a digital ledger for recording transactions and tracking assets used by companies like IBM.
“[W]ith blockchain, there is no need to have a central database of healthcare information that could be a target for hackers,” IBM said. “Instead, the IBM Digital Health Pass creates a ‘hash’ or fingerprint of the data that is captured on the blockchain thus becoming immutable. The verification process takes place against that hash instead of the medical information, protecting privacy.”
For those without smartphones, IBM’s system will allow them to print a QR code or to host it on someone else’s device — such as a parent’s smartphone for a child — which can then be used to demonstrate their health status.
Others, however, have already adopted a vaccine passport framework while the end product is not yet available. The World Economic Forum is working with the Switzerland-based nonprofit Commons Project on its CommonPass tool especially for international travelers to document their health status.
CommonPass is still under development, according to the nonprofit’s website, but will be made available on apps for Apple and Android devices.
The nonprofit has a U.S. advisory council that includes people such as former Sen. Mark Kirk, Illinois Republican, and Thomas Kalil, former Obama administration official in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Precisely what apps or documentation private businesses and local governments may require will likely vary greatly. Ms. Psaki said on Monday that the Biden administration wants no federal vaccination database nor to issue a mandate requiring everyone to maintain a credential.