Decision Time Approaches For Competing COVID Immunity Passport Schemes

COVID Vaccine Card

In America’s antebellum south, mosquito-borne yellow fever was the COVID-19 of its day. There was no vaccine. People built up socially valuable “immunocapital” by catching the disease and surviving it. Once established, a person’s immunity became a passkey to opportunity.

Nearly a century later, in 1933, The International Certificate of Inoculation and Vaccination was established by the International Sanitary Convention for Aerial Navigation. It was the first immunity passport — paper, of course — and permitted travelers in or out of certain nations.

Now, along comes COVID, and the notion of a dynamic digital immunity passport is being taken as seriously as passports of nationality. To this end, news broke on Jan. 14 that a consortium known as the Vaccination Credential Initiative (VCI) — including Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce and the Mayo Clinic — are jointly developing a secure mobile digital ID to prove immunity.

According to a statement, “VCI’s vision is to empower individuals to obtain an encrypted digital copy of their immunization credentials to store in a digital wallet of their choice. Those without smartphones could receive paper printed with QR codes containing W3C verifiable credentials.”

It’s a complex issue touching on everything from healthcare access to consumer data privacy — especially the sanctity of health records, which enjoy added protections via the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, commonly known as HIPAA.

What’s at stake is nothing less than a return to full-throated living as we knew it pre-COVID.

Vaccination Vs. Isolation

PYMNTS’ January 2021 report, Mapping Digital-First Consumers’ Return to the Physical World, surveyed nearly 2,300 U.S. consumers about their feelings on COVID inoculations and how the shot — or not — will influence shopping and traveling behaviors in the near future.

It’s clear that we’re not out of it yet, as the study found that “consumers are more willing to get vaccinated now than in the past, but almost half are still either against or lukewarm about the idea. Our research shows that 51 percent of all consumers now say they are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ likely to get vaccinated. This is more than the 45 percent who said they were on Nov. 19 and the 40 percent who said so on Nov. 12, but still leaves 49 percent of the population that is only ‘somewhat, ‘slightly’ or ‘not at all’ interested in getting vaccinated.”

The “undecideds” are problematic as businesses reliant on crowds reformulate.

For example, Ticketmaster is mulling a COVID immunity-proof system for events. Citing original reporting from Billboard, news site reports that “Ticketmaster is working on a plan that includes the use of your smartphone to verify the COVID-19 status of fans between a 24- to 72-hour window prior to the ticketed event,” adding that there are “three elements the ticketing agency will use to accomplish its goal: the Ticketmaster digital ticket app, third-party health corporations such as CLEAR Health Pass and testing providers such as Labcorp.”

Digital Shift Is Permanent, But Real Life Goes On

VCI is one of several competing ideas to standardize proof of immunity/proof of vaccination. Others include the International Air Transport Association (IATA), proposing its immunity-proving Travel Pass; The Commons Project and its CommonPass effort; and the open-source COVID Credentials Initiative, hosted by Linux Foundation Public Health.

In December 2020, Travel + Leisure reported that “The IATA Travel Pass should be available within the coming months, according to the company. It will begin with a testing program with IAG SA, parent company of British Airways, later this year. It should be made available on Apple devices in early 2021, with Android support following a few months later.”

All COVID passports have the same goal: restoring people to human lifestyles that digital simply can’t reproduce, whether it’s sporting events, attending concerts or jetting to exotic locales.

After VCI’s announcement, The Commons Project Chief Executive Paul Meyer told The Financial Times, “Individuals are going to need to have to produce vaccination records for a lot of aspects of getting back to life as normal. We live in a globally connected world. We used to, anyway — and we hope to again.”

That’s one of the biggest questions: Will they or won’t they (go back to stores, travel, dine out) more freely after being vaccinated? The answer is yes — and no.

PYMNTS research shows that 51 percent of consumers who are likely to get vaccinated “have shifted to shopping for retail items online, and 75 percent of them plan to keep shopping for retail items online even after they are vaccinated and the pandemic is no longer impacting their lives,” according to Mapping Digital-First Consumers’ Return to the Physical World. “We further found that 75 percent of the 27 percent of consumers who have shifted to ordering food online and are ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ likely to get vaccinated plan to keep ordering food online in the future.”