Digital Covid-19 vaccine certificates are here. So what’s the hold up?

As the race to develop standardized vaccine passports speeds ahead, we take a look at how these certifications are taking shape.

Vaccine certifications are far from a novel concept. For decades, travelers have carried proof of inoculations against malaria, diphtheria and yellow fever in the form of a small yellow vaccination booklet recognized by the World Health Organization.

Spurred by COVID-19, however, the next generation of vaccination records look and function very differently. For starters, emerging “vaccine passports” act as a digital complement to physical passports, such as a mobile app that contains a unique, readable QR code that links to your COVID-19 testing and vaccination records. Additionally, travelers can print out the QR code, much like a boarding pass.

But why not simply incorporate health data into existing ePassports? Electronic chips inside machine-readable biometric passports, or ePassports, already contain our photos, address, date of issue, date of expiry, nationality, and biometrics like fingerprints and iris patterns. In addition, ePassports contain dozens of security features to prevent forgery and fraud, from holograms to watermarks, anti-scan pattern, invisible fluorescent fibers, optically variable ink and more.

Unfortunately, passport innovation moves at a glacial pace. It took decades to standardize non-biometric machine-readable passports, due to a lack of resources in many countries and the complex web of stakeholders involved.

What’s more, the chips inside our passports can only hold so much data – we would need bigger, faster chips that can be updated in real-time to accommodate past travel records as well as testing, and vaccine and variant booster certifications.

And while the technology driving COVID-19 health apps may serve as a catalyst need to take traditional passports digital eventually, we wouldn’t count on it anytime soon. In the meantime, dozens of countries, organizations and private tech companies are racing to develop a winning digital vaccine passport.

In February, Iceland and Bahrain launched digital vaccine certificates, followed by China in March. Denmark also plans to unveil a vaccine passport by summer, as does Sweden and several other European countries. Then there’s the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass, the World Economic Forum’s CommonPass, and IBM’s Digital Health Pass, among others.

On a regional level, European Union member states agreed on basic data requirements for the EU’s vaccine verification system in January, according to Ciara Bottomley, a spokesperson from the European Commission, which will help ensure the certificates’ security and authenticity. Aiming to have the app ready by summer, the EU is working with the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Health Organization to test viability.

“This is one of the messiest times for travel. Countries haven’t decided on a unified system of verification in terms of COVID tests, let alone vaccines,” says Armand Arton, president and founder of Arton Capital. “Will vaccine passports have to be in the local language? Require digital signatures? Will you have to carry a paper version, too?”

“A global agency, like the World Travel & Tourism Council or the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization, is best placed to take leadership when it comes to setting standards for technology and security on a global level.”

While we wait for international standards to emerge, Arton says many countries will likely establish bilateral travel corridors as a first step towards rebooting mobility. For example, Greece and Israel are set to open a two-way bubble for vaccinated tourists, while Cyprus will accept fully vaccinated British travelers from May 1.

“Local, regional or international vaccine validation systems will help us start the long climb back to 2019’s World Openness Score,” says Arton. “International coordination will be very important for returning human mobility and crucial to the world’s economic recovery.”

Have you read the 2021 Passport Index Q1 Report? 

2020 was the year of lost travel plans. Prompting many to think that 2021 would be the year that makes up for it. But after diligent analysis of data collected from Passport Index throughout the start of 2021— the reality of global mobility paints a different picture. The 2021 Passport Index Q1 Report reveals which countries remained at the top of the ranks and which slipped far below, as well as what to expect moving forward.

Find the full report, here.

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