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.


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