Covıd-19, Coronavirus, Vaccine, Vaccine Passports

Covıd-19, Coronavirus

Commentary: Vaccine passports are within reach but important details must be worked out first

Commentary: Vaccine passports are within reach but important details must be worked out first

29/7/2021 2:02:00 AM

Commentary: Vaccine passports are within reach but important details must be worked out first

Digital vaccine passports could be the way to reviving not just travel but the global economy, says Accenture’s Chief Executive Officer for Growth ...

when travelling or returning to Singapore, co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force Gan Kim Yong said on Thursday (Jun 24).Singapore Airlines is also trialling a new digital health verification process allowing passengers to present their vaccination status and COVID-19 test results, paving the way for travel to eventually resume.

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Air traffic is picking up finally. At least eight in 10 pilots and cabin crew are returning to the skies at least once a month.PRIVACY, SECURITY AND INEQUALITYHowever, a global implementation of vaccine certificates will face numerous challenges.One is simply the sheer complexity of rolling one out globally. While the technical aspects of developing a digital vaccine passport are not difficult, the devil is in the details.

A universally accepted set of regulations is needed to ensure immigration processes at border controls will run smoothly. Countries must agree on authentication protocols and how data will be stored. This is easier said than done.Sigal Baram, 54, a newly-arrived tourist from Israel, enjoys in a swimming pool as Phuket reopens to overseas tourists. (Photo: REUTERS/Jorge Silva)

For one thing, data privacy is a big challenge. How such data will be protected against potential abuse and unauthorised use in commercialisation will be key to establishing a firm foundation for cooperation.The EU’s Digital COVID Certificate, how it isolates data to the platform and does not store data when the certificate is verified through its QR code or by human checks is one model but there are many others, requiring reconciliation.

Data protection will likewise be vital. Ransomware has already taken down some of the biggest companies in the world, and hackers will be circling the huge treasure trove of sensitive data in vaccine passports.Blockchain technology, used in Singapore’s HealthCerts, is one option offering comprehensive protection. Its transparent nature on how data is stored and shared will help build trust with travellers, airlines and countries alike.

Establishing trust and confidence in the ability of the system to protect personal information can encourage countries like the US, which does not have a centralised identification system, to go along with a global digital vaccine passport plan.(Why not allow dining in for those vaccinated when MICE and other big events can continue? Public health experts discuss whether new rules mean prior plans to live normally with COVID-19 will shift on this week’s Heart of the Matter podcast.)

TACKLING THE ETHICS OF A VACCINE PASSPORTRolling out a digital vaccine passport will also require countries to confront several ethical considerations.First, how do we manage the digital divide? The technological inequality between nations and socio-economic barriers will lead to the exclusion of certain groups, such as people who do not have access to technology, or the unvaccinated.

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Tackling this will mean embarking on a global effort not only to encourage people to get vaccinated but to also provide vaccination for all. Wealthy countries such as the US and UK must continue to provide access to vaccination for poorer countries struggling to get back to normalcy.

READ: Commentary: Privacy in a pandemic — can I ask my GP if they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19?People pass the control tower of Singapore's Changi Airport, Singapore, on Jan 18, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Edgar Su)Then there’s the inevitable debate over the type of vaccinations accepted under global norms, given varying levels of protection each offers. Countries too have different goals: Some want higher levels of protection against infection, while others are focused on preventing individuals from getting hospitalised.

Clearly, the issue is a complex one, which requires a global and coordinated effort to develop a solution.Many aspects of a digital vaccine passport rollout, such as collating and storing of national identification, is within the remit of public sector. But the private sector can provide the expertise to harness blockchain technology, paving the way for collaboration between the two sides.

READ: Commentary: In Singapore’s bold plan to reopen, these are the hard-nosed decisions society must makeOn a multilateral level, countries need to work together to allow the open flow of data, shared experiences and thought leadership to help shape recovery policies.

For example, the effectiveness of the EU Digital COVID Certificate will depend on member states abiding by the common framework set out earlier this year and refraining from imposing sudden and additional travel restrictions on the holders the vaccine passport.

TAKING FIRST STEPSA bold vision of globally accepted digital vaccine passports can begin small. Establishing a global system will likely start with countries most eager to move ahead on a bilateral basis.Singapore and Estonia are exploring the mutual recognition of digital vaccination e-certs.

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There is no doubt that resuming global travel and reopening borders will be contingent on vaccine passports.READ: Commentary: Southeast Asia risks falling behind other regions in recovering aviation and tourismStill, they are not a free pass for people to travel freely when countries can still decide to impose restrictions and quarantine policies as the COVID-19 situation morphs. And it could take some time for mutual recognition.

But hopefully, with patience, cooperation, and innovation, we will soon be able to cheer our football teams in the flesh, anywhere in the world.Gianfranco Casati is Accenture’s Chief Executive Officer for Growth Markets. Read more: CNA »

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