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COVID-19 Vaccine Passports Will Be Important for International Travel

Since the rollout of coronavirus vaccines began, countries have reopened their borders for non-essential international travel. With the reopening of international travel, the tourism sector has made a slight recovery from the effects of the pandemic and allowed travelers to resume their canceled plans.

What are COVID-19 Vaccine Passports

COVID-19 vaccine passports are digital or paper-based records used to show that you are vaccinated against COVID-19. Most of these certificates contain a scannable QR code that can be stored digitally.

Paper-based formats mostly show the name and details, such as the place and vaccine you received.  Some might have additional marks to prove authenticity.

Most countries that have vaccine systems allow their citizens to receive a vaccine passport as soon as they are vaccinated. The UK, for example, has the NHS pass, which is linked to your vaccination record. The EU has the EUDCC system, which is available in each EU country.

Proof of Vaccination

Vaccine passports have been significant in proving that a traveler is vaccinated, the type of vaccine they received, and their suitability to travel into another country.

Despite the rise of new COVID-19 variants, vaccine certificates are expected to continue their critical role in international travel. Countries are setting up COVID-19 vaccination certificate systems to help their citizens prove their vaccination status.

Even more important, more countries are recognizing the need for interoperability between various systems. With interoperability in mind, they are developing vaccine passports that are readable and verifiable from different countries.

The most widely recognized system for proving vaccination against COVID is the EU digital COVID Certificate system, which has attracted the attention of many countries in and outside Europe.

Other countries like the US are still firm on not introducing a federal mandate for vaccine passports. However, foreign travelers into the US must be fully vaccinated and provide proof of vaccination before boarding a plane to the United States.

The United States also specifies that foreign travelers must be vaccinated with one of the FDA-approved or authorized vaccines. Those vaccinated with vaccines approved by the WHO as emergency use vaccines can also travel to the US.

How to Use Vaccine Passports When Traveling Abroad

Before you travel during the pandemic, the first step is to identify the travel requirements for your destination country. Different countries have different travel requirements.

If not fully vaccinated and you have recently recovered from COVID-19, you can request a vaccination certificate that shows you’ve recently recovered from the virus. The EU, for instance, issues a COVID-19 certificate for those who have recovered from the coronavirus within the previous six months.

Another important factor to check before you leave for another country is the length of time a COVID vaccine is considered effective. For instance, you may need to wait at least 14 days after your first shot to travel.

Depending on where you are traveling to, your vaccine certificate might be unrecognized. Therefore, you want to check whether your destination country has a means for verifying your vaccine passport.

If not, you can identify alternative steps or allowances for unvaccinated persons. These might include a negative PCR test within a certain time pre-departure, or quarantine requirements.

Summary

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines and vaccine passports have provided a sense of hope for resuming activities. As more countries roll out vaccines and introduce vaccine passports, travelers can prove their vaccination status and travel from one country to another.

 

 

 

How A Unified Digital Identity Will Help in Identity Verification

Identity verification is an age-old tool to confirm that people are who they claim to be. With digital identities, there is a greater need for verification. This is especially so as people operate in an online environment where anyone can adopt any identity.

Digital identities come in many forms, and one person could have several of them. A digital identity includes your social, personal, civic, enterprise, or other information.

Since digital identities are here to stay, the need for a method to uniquely identify people all over the world becomes important.

Why is a Unified Identity Important?

Unified digital identities offer several benefits. First, they help improve security and control over information. Through unified digital identities, organizations can reduce their threat surfaces.  This strengthens their  cybersecurity.

Second, unified digital identities can help organizations improve user experience. Consumers and employees expect a smooth experience when completing transactions or activities online. For example, travelers want to easily prove their identity easily across different airports and countries.

Thirdly, having a unified digital identity helps address certain challenges, such as those that arose with the pandemic. Due to the airborne nature of COVID-19, smartphone location data provided the government with a reliable way to help in contact tracing. Stakeholders can also track compliance to protective measures in the event of another pandemic.

The Role of Blockchain in a Unified Digital Identity

Blockchain has provided a potential identity management solution due to its immutable nature. With blockchain, experts are looking to develop a solution that allows users to prove their identity without revealing unnecessary information.

Since privacy is a major concern for a majority of people and businesses, blockchain can provide an ideal solution. People can prove that they meet certain requirements without having to disclose the actual information. For instance, you can prove that you are 18 or over without disclosing additional details such as your date or year of birth.

Blockchain provides the opportunity to create a portable, encrypted digital identity, Compatible across various platforms, without the need for centralized storage.

The decentralized storage for these digital identities protects users from the risk of data compromise in a hacking incident or the risk of becoming fodder for identity theft.

Risks of a Unified Digital Identity

Used in the right way, a digital identity is a tool for convenient identity verification. However, as with all technologies containing personal information, privacy and human rights are major concerns.

Trust is a significant factor in convincing people to fully embrace unified digital identities. This means that users and stakeholders must be certain that the personal data they have will be used only for the proper purposes.

Another concern with digital identities is the potential for abuse by governments. Authoritarian governments might be more likely to abuse unified digital identities if they are not built with the proper safeguards.

Due to these concerns, identity management experts suggest the use of self-sovereign systems that give full control of information to its owner. In this case, the owner controls where, how long, and how the information is stored.

What the Future Looks Like

As digital identities become a central part of our society, the need for these identities to be unified becomes more important.  Due to privacy concerns and the risks associated with having a unified digital identity, more identity holders will want control of their information. Therefore, identity management solutions should give identity owners autonomy and control over their data.

 

Challenges in Developing a Globally Acceptable COVID-19 Vaccination Certificate

Vaccine certificates seem to offer the path towards a post-Covid world.  However, establishing a global vaccine certificate remains an elusive goal. Certain regions, like the EU, have developed successful vaccine certificate programs.  These have played a critical role in the resumption of social activities and travel for the vaccinated.  In this article, we will explore some of the top challenges in developing a globally acceptable vaccination certificate.

1.    First Challenge in Developing a Globally Acceptable Vaccine Certificate: Uneven Vaccine Distribution

More than 49% of the global population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. (The fully vaccinated comprise 38.85% of the global population). However, most of the vaccinated populations are from high-income countries. Only 3.7% of people from low-income countries have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

While the uneven distribution of vaccines remains, establishing a global COVID-19 passport could isolate people from countries that have yet to achieve a significant vaccine roll-out.

The WHO emphasized the disparity that would arise if the world were to enforce a global vaccine certificate.  Instead, it insisted that equitable vaccine distribution would first need to be achieved before implementing a vaccine passport for travel.

2.     2nd Challenge: Legal and Political Challenges

Many countries still struggle with legal questions in developing vaccination certificates. While vaccine certificates offer the ability to travel or move around without restrictions, some have seen them as discriminatory.

By requiring vaccine certificates to access certain areas, the unvaccinated people might feel sidelined or even compelled to be vaccinated.

In the US, the Biden administration has emphasized that there will be no Federal mandate requiring the use of vaccine certificates. Individual states have established different vaccine mandates. California, for example, requires proof of vaccination for people to attend in-person events with more than 1000 people.

Hawaii also requires proof of vaccination for those traveling to the state. New York, which has been using its Excelsior Pass for some time now, requires proof of vaccination to access select indoor leisure activities.

In other states, however, the use of vaccine passports is banned. Arkansas, for example, signed a law in April 2021, prohibiting state and local governments from requiring proof of vaccination. In Florida, public or private entities that require a vaccine certificate are subject to a $5000 fine for each violation.

3.     Technical Challenges

Other challenges relate to technical details about what to certify. For example, for how long should the certificates certify immunity?  How long does the immunity last?  Different vaccinated populations with different medical backgrounds offer a challenge to create uniform yet accurate expiration dates for vaccination certificates.

Final Word

Vaccine passports could help in the transition into a post-pandemic world.  Nevertheless, there remain challenges in developing a vaccine passport with global acceptance. The implementation of a worldwide vaccine passport would need to address the current challenges. This includes achieving vaccine equality, addressing legal and political concerns, and making technical decisions about the certification process.

 

UN’s Recommendations for Vaccine Certificates

In May 2021, the United Nations’ World Tourism Organization released a set of recommendations for vaccine certificates for countries around the world.  These recommendations came in efforts to restart tourism, one of the areas hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

These recommendations were made in hopes of restoring tourism and to counterbalance the loss of millions of jobs witnessed in the travel sector. Member countries of the UNWTO are expected to provide free, universally available, and non-discriminatory COVID-19 certification to their citizens.

The Recommendations for Vaccine Certificates

The UNWTO recommended that every vaccine certificate have three main features.  The first is data protection for individuals using vaccine passports.  The second is availability of the certificate in paper and digital format.  The third is discontinuation of vaccine passport schemes as soon as COVID-19 is no longer considered a public health emergency.

Let’s look at these recommendations in detail:

1.     Data Protection

Multiple countries worldwide have launched some form of vaccination certificate. Whether these certificates are paper or digital-based, the issue of privacy and data protection continues to concern people.

The pandemic has taught us just how eager criminals are to exploit the pandemic to benefit themselves. Data has been a major target for these criminals, allowing them to gain access to sensitive personal, financial, and health information.

COVID-19 vaccination certificates may become a permanent fixture in our lives to allow access to public venues and travel.  This raises concerns about how safe our health data is from criminals.

Some of the recommendations for ensuring data protection in COVID-19 certificates include:

  • Having a lawful basis, legitimate use, and fair processing of vaccine certificates; stakeholders should process personal data in a non-discriminatory manner.
  • Implementing GDPR principles such as data minimization, purpose limitations, and impact assessment.
  • Constant assessment of the privacy and security measures used for vaccine passports to ensure they still serve their intended purposes.
  • Transparently and clearly outlining processes for citizens to allow them to exercise their data protection rights.
  • Governments and COVID-19 vaccine certificate developers should develop criteria that ensure data is not stored for longer than necessary.
  • The data processed in creating the vaccine certificate should be confidential and only accessible to explicitly authorized personnel.
  • Safeguards should protect data from unnecessary usage during international data transfers with third countries.

2.     Multiple Formats

In addition to data protection and privacy concerns, the use of COVID-19 certificates raises concerns of discrimination against certain groups. Most countries have not vaccinated their entire populations.  Therefore, there is a  danger of discrimination against minorities, migrants, and people from low-income groups, who are more likely to be unvaccinated.

Creating different formats of COVID-19 vaccine certificates helps avoid discrimination against people who cannot access digital format vaccine certificates. Thus, for example, maintaining some availability of paper-based certificates could minimize the disadvantage towards them.

3.     Discontinuation When No Longer Needed

The WHO recommends constant monitoring of vaccine certificate efforts to assess the outcomes of these efforts. During monitoring, stakeholders should identify data and efforts that they should continue, modify, or stop.

Additionally, when the threat of COVID-19 no longer persists, governments should end the requirements for vaccine passports.

 Final word

COVID-19 vaccination certificates seem to be the best way to allow the safe resumption of public activities and international travel. The UN and other key stakeholders have taken steps to guide the best practices and recommendations for vaccine passports.  This is in response to the growing concerns of privacy and discrimination that could arise from the use of these certificates.

 

Europe Works towards International Vaccine Certificate Standards

EU Vaccine Certificate Standards

Vaccine certificate standards are a key issue for countries around the world. The EU adopted the EU Digital COVID Certificate in June 2021 and has since issued more than 591 million EU Digital COVID Certificates to member states. More than 43 countries connect to the EU Digital COVID Certificate. This includes the 27 member states.  It also includes 3 countries in the EEA, Switzerland, and an additional 12 countries and territories.

In addition, more than 60 countries have expressed interest and the EU is pursuing discussions with 28 of these countries.

Countries within the EU as well as travelers in the region have expressed their satisfaction in using the certificate for travel.  20 member-states have adopted the certificates for domestic purposes.

The uniformity of the EU Digital COVID Certificate has set a model for other countries that wish to develop vaccine certificates for travel.

Common Vaccine Certificate Standards

The EU began working on its digital vaccine system months before its launch. The commission engaged with key stakeholders to develop an interoperable, trustworthy, and privacy-protecting vaccination system.  A key element is that it could fit with a country’s existing system.

The EU system’s success calls for companies developing certificates to pay attention to the standards and the approach the EU took in developing its system.

In a comment highlighting the success of the EU vaccination verification system, Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton commented, “In record time, the European Union has set up a digital, secure and interoperable COVID certificate system. This has been a key driver for the recovery of the tourism ecosystem and its many small and family-owned businesses across Europe. Beyond that, the EU system is adopted by countries around the world, demonstrating how Europe can set global standards through decisive and coordinated action.”

Some of the standards that informed the development of the EU Digital COVID Certificate include:

  • Developing a simple system that can accommodate paper and digital certificates.
  • Flexibility and compatibility with existing national solutions.
  • Thorough protection of personal data.
  • Step-wise approach upon agreement by member states.

Based on the framework, vaccine certificates feature:

  • Minimum datasets (the certificates include only the essential information).
  • A unique vaccination certificate identifier that is globally unique and verifiable.
  • A trust framework through which the validity of a vaccine certificate can be established.

These guidelines have also provided a framework for countries to develop vaccine certificates compatible with the EU system.

The WHO has also adopted similar recommendations.

Vaccine Certificate Standards and Recognition of Certificates from Other Countries

Simultaneously, the EU is making progress towards accepting vaccine certificates from third countries. When this happens, travelers from accepted countries will be able to present their certificates and enter the EU.

As of October 27, 2021, 43 countries have connected to the EU system.  This allows their citizens to travel into the EU without concern about recognition of their certificates.

The European Commission on October 29, 2021, announced the acceptance of the NHS COVID Pass into the EU Digital COVID Certificate scheme. Travelers from the UK can now travel with their NHS pass into the EU starting November 1, 2021.

Moving Forward

As the only COVID-19 vaccination certificate in effect, the EU system has set standards for other countries that wish to implement successful vaccination verification systems.

 

 

Essential Features for COVID-19 Vaccination Certificates

Vaccination certificates may be the bridge towards helping economies recover from the burden of COVID-19. Countries all over are implementing different systems as their COVID-19 vaccination verification systems.  These range from physical certificates to digital health certificates.  What are the essential features for these certificates?

Israel is one of the countries that have successfully implemented vaccination and the use of digital certificates. As other countries and even the WHO consider developing a digital COVID-19 vaccination certificate, here are some of the essential features of a successful certificate:

Essential Feature: Minimum Data

Data is a valuable asset for businesses and criminals alike.  We have covered some of the ways criminals have exploited data during the pandemic on the RKN Global blog. Healthcare data is especially sensitive.  This is because it contains personal and medical information that criminals can exploit for different types of fraud.

Therefore, COVID-19 vaccination certificates need to provide access only to information that proves the holder is vaccinated without disclosing other sensitive information. The European Commission and the World Health Organization offer recommendations on the biographical information to include and to leave out.

1st of the Essential Features: Inclusive Formats

One consistent concern that has arisen over the use of digital vaccination certificates is how they alienate people without access to technology. A good vaccination certificate needs to provide citizens and users with alternative formats of their vaccination certificates.  This would include both e- and hard-copy formats.

Additionally, vaccine certificates should be portable to allow citizens to prove their vaccination status wherever they are.

COVID-19 vaccine passports should also accommodate differences between and changes in the effectiveness of different vaccines.  This includes effectiveness in preventing infection and transmission.  It also includes the duration of immunity and the frequency of vaccine passport renewal.

2nd of the Essential Features: Remote Verification

Remote verification is important in COVID-19 vaccination certificates. Certificates should allow for a secure, contactless remote verification using smartphones or tablets as verification devices.

Standardized

Standardization is an important feature in COVID-19 vaccine certificates. Ideally, COVID-19 vaccination certificates should be built for interoperable technologies that allow different verification bodies to determine a person’s vaccinated status.

In addition, these vaccine passports should have verifiable credentials across the board. The Common Pass and the COVID-19 Credentials initiatives are working towards developing standardized digital solutions in this regard.

Affordable

Affordability for governments and individuals is another key feature of vaccine certificates. Governments must have sufficient resources to develop and maintain a vaccination passport. In addition, the individuals of that nation must be in a position to afford the vaccination passport to prevent issues with the marginalization of low-income groups.

Meet Legal and Ethical Standards

The legality and ethics of vaccine passports have caused divisions across stakeholders and other experts. For vaccine passports to work, they must meet both legal and ethical standards.  These include international, regional, and national human rights laws, data protection laws, COVID-19 legislation, and equality and anti-discrimination laws.

Vaccine passports should be inclusive, have defined uses, and avoid worsening existing inequalities.  They should protect users’ privacy and offer them control over their own data.

Bottom Line

Vaccine passports are established to serve different purposes including vaccination status and COVID-19 infection status.

These certificates have certain features that are essential to their function and integrity.  Examples include the ability to maintain the privacy of the vaccinated person, to remain standardized, and to prevent exacerbating existing inequalities such as differential rollout access.