Brendan McDermid | Reuters
LONDON — A digital Covid vaccination passport is being jointly developed by a group of health and technology companies who anticipate that governments, airlines and other firms will soon start asking people for proof that they have been inoculated.
The VCI said it wants to develop technology that enables individuals to obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials that can be stored in a digital wallet of their choice, such as the Apple Wallet or Google Pay. It suggested that anyone without a smartphone could receive paper printed with QR codes containing verifiable credentials.
The coalition said it will also try to develop new standards for confirming whether a person has or hasn’t been inoculated against the virus. Previously, citizens have used vaccination booklets to keep track of their travel vaccines but authorities rarely ask to see them.
“The goal of the Vaccination Credential Initiative is to empower individuals with digital access to their vaccination records,” said Paul Meyer, CEO of non-profit The Commons Project, which is a member of the coalition, in a statement.
He added that the technology should allow people “to safely return to travel, work, school, and life, while protecting their data privacy.”
Bill Patterson, an executive vice president and general manager at enterprise software firm Salesforce, said his company wants to help organizations “customize all aspects of the vaccination management lifecycle and integrate closely with other coalition members’ offerings, which will help us all get back to public life.”
“With a single platform to help deliver safe and continuous operations and deepen trust with customers and employees, this coalition will be crucial to support public health and wellbeing,” Patterson added.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
While many people can’t wait to protect themselves from the virus, some are adamant that they won’t get the jab, leaving populations divided into those that have been vaccinated and those that haven’t. In the U.K., one in five say they are unlikely to get the vaccine, according to YouGov research published in November, citing a variety of different reasons.
Millions of people around the world still don’t want to be vaccinated, according to opinion polls. Some fear needles, some believe in unsubstantiated conspiracy theories and some are worried about potential side effects. Others just don’t think getting vaccinated is necessary and would rather risk catching Covid.
As a result of the differing views, a debate could start to emerge in 2021. Should any restrictions be imposed on people who choose not to get vaccinated, given they can catch and spread the virus?
It’s a tricky subject but governments are already looking at introducing systems that would enable authorities, and possibly businesses, to tell if a person has had a Covid vaccine or not.
In December it emerged that Los Angeles County plans to let Covid vaccine recipients store proof of immunization in the Apple Wallet on their iPhone, which can also store tickets and boarding passes in digital form. Officials say it will first be used to remind people to get their second shot of the vaccine but it could, eventually, be used to gain access to concert venues or airline flights.
China has launched a health code app that shows whether a person is symptom-free in order to check into a hotel or use the subway. In Chile, citizens that have recovered from the coronavirus have been issued with “virus free” certificates.
On Dec. 28, Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa said the country will create a registry to show who has refused to be vaccinated and that the database could be shared across Europe.
Elsewhere, the CEO of Delta Air Lines, Ed Bastian, said in April that immunity passports could be used to help fliers feel more confident in their personal safety while traveling.
A spokesperson for Ryanair said “vaccination won’t be a requirement when flying Ryanair” when CNBC asked if it would ever prevent non-vaccinated people from flying on its aircraft. British Airways, Qantas, and easyJet did not respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Isra Black, a lecturer in law at the University of York, and Lisa Forsberg, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oxford who researches medical ethics, told CNBC that it “isn’t easy to say whether it would be ethically permissible for a state to impose restrictions” on people who refuse a jab.
The academics said in a joint statement via email that the answer will depend on factors like vaccine supply, the level of vaccination in the population, the nature of the restrictions on vaccine refusers, and how the restrictions are operationalized.
“We might think that there are strong, albeit not necessarily decisive, reasons in favor of some limitation on regaining pre-pandemic freedoms for individuals who refuse vaccination for Covid-19, for example, on their freedom to gather,” said Black and Forsberg. “There is the potential for unvaccinated individuals to contract a serious case of coronavirus, which we take would be bad for them, but could also negatively affect others, for example, if health resources have to be diverted away from non-Covid care.”