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Will we all need an electronic COVID-19 vaccine passport?

People all over the world are starting to receive their first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Now countries, venues, businesses and schools are wondering whether they’ll have to ask people to prove they are immunized

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Just last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the United States passed the milestone of 1 million people receiving their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The CDC tells people on its website that even after receiving two doses of the vaccine, they will still have to wear a mask, wash hands and stay apart from others. 

“Experts need to understand more about the protection that COVID-19 vaccines provide before deciding to change recommendations,” it reads.

But some companies are wondering whether the ability to prove someone has been vaccinated could give a little more freedom when it comes to reopening businesses and events.

One group looking at the possibility of requiring a type of vaccine passport is the airline industry. The head of Qantas Airlines told Australian TV show “A Current Affair” that COVID-19 vaccinations will be required for any international travel.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce didn’t explain exactly how the airline would verify vaccination but indicated that it would be a necessity.

“I think that’s going to be a common thing talking to my colleagues in other airlines around the globe,” he said.

And Ticketmaster is also reportedly working on a vaccine verification tool. Billboard reported Ticketmaster’s plan is still in development and noted the company would not have access to fans’ medical records. 

President Mark Yovich told Billboard that third-party health care providers are jumping in to fill the digital screening void. He said they’re preparing to handle the vetting, “whether that is getting a vaccine, taking a test or other methods of review and approval — which could then be linked via a digital ticket so everyone entering the event is verified.”

Ticketmaster clarified on its website that it doesn’t have the power to set policies around entry requirements, including vaccines. “That would always be up to the discretion of the event organizer,” according to its website, “based on their preferences and local health guidelines.”

Ambitious companies are well on their way to offering up those digital verification tools.

The company Vacmobile will partner with state vaccination registries so users can receive, store and transmit digital records. The app claims to keep all that information safe and will charge an annual fee for individuals and families.

Microsoft is leading a collaborative effort to provide a framework for what it’s calling “Health Cards.” The goal is to “enable a consumer to receive COVID-19 immunization or lab results and present them to another party in a verifiable manner.”

Apple and Google both have apps that allow users to download medical records (including immunizations) if their providers have agreements with the health care companies.

CommonPass is an app that would allow travelers to show verification of COVID-19 vaccination. JetBlue, Lufthansa, United Airlines and other airlines rolled out CommonPass to passengers in select markets this month. The airlines aren’t yet using it for vaccination information, but rather for COVID-19 status.

CommonPass says on its website that users can access their records and use them to validate their COVID-19 status “without revealing any other underlying personal health information.”

Privacy concerns surrounding these types of digital vaccine verifications are common.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has said people are already wary of the COVID-19 vaccine. It wrote on its website that bringing in “smartphone-based products and new privacy concerns would only harm public health efforts.”

Gavi the Vaccine Alliance states on its website that immunity passports raise ethical issues due to “concerns that documentation could be fraudulently reproduced.”

But the World Health Organization, which has said it opposes immunity passports, is now involved with a pilot project in Estonia for a digital vaccine certificate, according to Reuters.

Whether you’d like to use a digital vaccine verification or not, it’s unlikely to happen any time soon. The executive director of the American Immunization Registry Association, Rebecca Coyle, told NBC, “This is something that almost no one can focus on right now.”

She said vaccine passports might not be a reality for many months.

And with more research needed before anyone knows how long immunity from a COVID-19 vaccination may last, we don’t really know how long a verification of that vaccine may prove anything.