Vaccine passports are a mess. Can Big Tech clean them up?

Government bodies and tech platforms are spinning up vaccine certification programs. Here’s a roundup.


January 26, 2021

Nearly 150 years after the CDC gave students proof-of-vaccination cards to return to school in a smallpox outbreak, we’re using the same playbook.

Around the globe, teams are working on COVID-19 vaccine verification programs so we can go back to all the crowded spaces we so dearly miss.

Problem is, there’s no common standard for developers to use when designing “COVID passports.”

So governments are taking matters into their own hands…

… by introducing certifications of all kinds in cities and countries around the world:

  • LA County’s vaccinated residents get physical CDC cards as well as digital cards for mobile wallets
  • People in China use a symptom-checking app to access hotels and subways
  • The European Union is looking at a vaccine certification plan

These programs are a nice start, but the lack of global coordination makes the efforts a far cry from universally accessible applications we could expect to use at airport check-ins.

Cue: Big Tech

With governments failing to collab, Microsoft, Oracle, and Salesforce teamed up with healthcare giants Mayo Clinic and Epic, among others, to build a passport dream team.

The team is working to establish universal standards for verifying, securing, and providing individuals access to vaccination records.

They’re not alone in the space: IBM, The Commons Project, the COVID-19 Credentials Initiative, and the International Air Transport Association are all working on similar systems.

These groups are facing no shortage of challenges

Rapidly building and scaling a global health care platform is cause for concern among privacy hawks.

Some also worry requiring the digital passports can be discriminatory toward those who can’t access the vaccines and to some elderly and homeless populations.

Yet the biggest hurdles are logistical. Anyone trying to take a healthcare platform global faces language barriers, database overload, and privacy laws up the wazoo.

For now, as with anything COVID-related, let’s just wait and see what happens tomorrow.

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