As we approach the one year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic, the number of people to have been infected with COVID-19 exceeds 132 million, and more than 2.8 million of these people have died. The response to this health crisis has been the development and approval of several vaccines with unprecedented speed to combat COVID-19.
Although access to vaccination can translate into more freedom of mobility and conducting business, without the ability to verify one’s immune status in a secure and indisputable manner, increased immunity does not in and of itself reduce these restrictions. In order to bridge the gap between immunity and the return to normalcy, several private and public organizations are rapidly implementing proof of vaccination solutions to track an individual’s immunity status, which, in turn, will not only reduce restrictions on business and travel, but also serve as an aid to limit the spread of the virus.
The purpose of this article is to explore global technological readiness for proof of vaccination solutions. We will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of vaccination certification, the main features of each as well as the manner in which they could be implemented.
What do the Latest Solutions for Proof of Vaccination Look Like?
- Printed Certificate
The most immediate and readily available solution for certifying vaccine status is the printed certificate. Such a solution requires that a health official issue a document proving vaccination status immediately after vaccination.
The most obvious disadvantage such insecure certificates face is forgery. Consequently, any printed vaccination certificate that does not include on it some sort of visible and/or invisible security features can be easily forged or altered.
Even if the document is legitimate and contains the necessary safeguards to prevent its forgery or adulteration, it is still necessary to verify that the person presenting the document is the person named in the certificate. Therefore, the second disadvantage of standard printed documents has to do with the absence of an inherent quality that allows for the immediate and foolproof verification of the identity of the holder of the certificate.
Finally, it may be difficult or impossible for a printed certificate to be easily updated or replaced.
- Technology-based Solutions
Several health and government authorities as well as some large industry players are currently commencing the implementation of new solutions that provide proof of vaccination. These solutions have been provided to the authorities as mobile applications that can be used for issuance of vaccination passports to citizens.
Despite the obvious benefit and ease that such solutions provide, several difficulties associated with implementation and usage of some of these solutions have emerged.
The most pressing concern associated with these applications has to do with issues of Privacy both in terms of keeping an individual’s identity safe and the ability of the application to collect personal data not relevant to the verification of one’s vaccine status. Furthermore, for existing solutions that provide proof of vaccination, most applications require linking vaccination status to a citizen’s ID.
Another issue related to the use of a mobile application solution for vaccination status has to do with implementation time. In general, the implementation of complex technological solutions takes months at a minimum.
Also, the solution should also not be limited in its ability to establish identity and authenticate it. In other words, the optimal solution should easily and securely 1) verify the genuineness of the issued vaccination certificate, 2) indisputably authenticate the identity of the person presenting the vaccination certificate (if required by the use case), and 3) confirm that the person is indeed the owner of the certificate. Additionally, the solution should be flexible enough to manage the issued vaccination passport. In other words, the solution should allow for easy update of stored data.
Finally, a limitation that is of particular importance to a mobile application is internet connectivity. Specifically, online solutions require the internet by definition, and mobile solutions exclude citizens without smartphones. The optimal vaccination passport, therefore, will be one that also allows completely offline authentication of the information it contains.
Rethinking the Approach to Proof of Vaccination
Given the needs and limitations for a mobile solution that can provide each individual with the ability to confirm their vaccination/immunity status securely and authentically, we took an initiative to conceptualize and design a technological solution that can facilitate the next critical phase of the post COVID-19 world, which necessitates bringing life back to the new, required normality.
Uncoupling vaccination status from a citizen’s ID
In order to avoid such types of problems as endangering the personal data or limiting the access due to absence of Internet connectivity or a smartphone, the objective of proof of vaccination needs to be addressed differently compared to previously described solutions.
The solution should allow vaccinating entities to provide each vaccinated person quickly and easily with a biometrically-verifiable credential. The credential should contain the vaccination date and status, as well as biometrics, for example, face biometric template, all encrypted securely. The credential then should be presented, on a smartphone or in printed form, to any verifying organization that has downloaded the verification software, which can run on a smartphone or other mobile device, to verify that the person presenting the credential is the true owner. The verification should be based on biometrics, but require no third party verification, and so, the biometric data itself will stay with the owner and under the full control of the owner.
Such a solution will solve all main problems of the existing solutions as it is inclusive and links the vaccination status to its holder in a secure and private manner, preventing forgery and allowing to boost the fight against pandemic.