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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.