Can digital vaccine credentials help us return to normal?

Published: Apr. 23, 2021 at 11:22 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) — As more Americans are getting vaccinated, the conversation is now shifting to how people can return to normal life, and gain access to concerts, stadiums, airport and the workplace.

Vaccine passports, or digital health credentials, are at the center of this discussion nationwide.

With two shots in the arm done, Texan Rex Hollingsworth said he cannot wait to get back to live concerts and hockey games. He said he will show any proof he needs to get there.

“I don’t care who knows I have the vaccine, I just wanna see the show,” Hollingsworth said. “I want to get back to my life.”

Tech giant IBM is working with more than 300 other public and private organizations to develop and test digital vaccine credentials—what they are calling smart health cards.

The digital cards are a way to show you have been vaccinated or tested by showing a simple QR code living on your phone.

IBM has already successfully rolled out a Digital Health Pass in New York, called Excelsior Pass.

Here is how a digital vaccine credential would work: you would download the app on your phone, then the testing or vaccination site would send you a secured credential via an encrypted QR code. Once you receive the QR Code, you would download it to your digital wallet and you are ready to go.

Anyone without a smartphone can print out the code.

The coalition of companies, called the Vaccine Credential Initiative, is billing the digital health cards as a better alternative to carrying around your personal documents. Jason Kelley, IBM General Manager of Strategic Alliances, said the app only provides your COVID status.

“We’re just talking about a new capability to give me an option to share my health status, in a way that does not share anything else about me, doesn’t record any additional data, doesn’t keep it all in a central database,” said Kelley.

But digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation is concerned requiring health credentials are an invasion of privacy, infringes on individual freedoms and creates further digital inequities.

“We think that is a big step towards a surveillance system that we should not want,” said Adam Schwartz, Senior Staff Attorney.

White House officials say the federal government will not make COVID credentials mandatory. It is up to the states right now.

While Hawaii plans to roll out a “vaccine passport” by the summer, the governors of Florida and Texas banned business from requiring citizens to show a credential to use services.

The Vaccine Credential Initiative members said they plan to make a standardized digital credential available to consumers in May.

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