Biometric Identity Tools to Play Key Role in Solving COVID-19 Public Health Puzzle

With the emergence of the new omicron variant of COVID-19 leading to yet more panic across the globe, it’s clear the world will not be returning to normalcy anytime soon. Governments are still pushing vaccines as the only viable solution to ending the pandemic, all the while continuing their efforts to stop its spread.

One of the most useful tools for governments to contain new outbreaks are so-called vaccine passports, and they have become essential in many parts of the world for people to enter public venues and travel.

“For life to get back to normalcy, and to do it in a safe manner, it is critical that we have as many vaccinations as possible,” Jumio Chief Product Officer Bala Kumar told PYMNTS in an interview. “Therefore, having proof of vaccination is also going to be critical for people in the near term. I don’t see a pathway in the next 12 to 18 months where life can go on without proof of vaccination.”

If vaccine passports are going to be effective, it’s crucial they can be trusted. That explains why Jumio, a provider of digital identity solutions, is so vocal about their importance. One of the biggest obstacles in the way of vaccine passport initiatives is the growing black market for fake certificates, driven by high demand from those who oppose vaccination.

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That’s where Jumio believes it can help. Kumar said he was shocked that most vaccination centers are still handing out paper cards that can easily be copied by almost anyone. He said that while he recognizes it takes time to create a robust infrastructure that can validate vaccinations, countries like the U.S. have already had more than 18 months to introduce something.

“The moment you pull out a paper card, you’re welcoming fraud to come in and thrive,” he said.

When it comes to proving someone is vaccinated or not, there are two pieces in the puzzle, Kumar said. The first is to prove the person is who they are claiming to be — and that’s where Jumio can help, using biometrics. The second is to prove that a person’s vaccination credentials are genuine, and Kumar said mechanisms for doing so already exist.

“There are databases now, test labs, that are starting to make this information available, so you just connect, and you get proof of vaccination,” Kumar said. “You can get proof of tests very quickly.”

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The technology that supports this also needs to be easy to use, so someone walking into a store can easily prove they’ve been vaccinated. That’s where biometrics come in, Kumar said. He pointed out the technology is already well established. Millions of people scan their face or use their thumbprint to unlock their phones every day, for example, so Kumar said he doesn’t believe there will be much opposition to using biometrics to validate vaccine passports.

Kumar said he things Jumio can help to create a solution that’s not much different from what happens when checking in at an airport, for example.

“If you’re going through airport security, you need to prove who you are,” he said. “So, when it comes to vaccination proof, you need to prove that it’s the right individual, then show the validity of their vaccination card, then you can greenlight them.”

See more: TSA Sees Biometrics as Next-Gen ID Verification Tool

Asked how big an opportunity the vaccine passport industry might be for Jumio, Kumar insisted the company isn’t looking at it to make money. Rather, he said it’s primarily motivated by a desire to help people and the economy get back on track.

He said he believes every kind of organization has to play its part in this. A grocery store for instance certainly doesn’t want to be on the front line, checking to see every single shopper is vaccinated, but Kumar said it has a responsibility to do so anyway — if only to protect patrons.

The good news is that several organizations have already stepped up. Kumar said he’s seen quite a few apps that can tap into a central vaccination database, allowing people to show a QR code quickly and be on their way. The technology is there; now is the time to implement it, he said.

“There’s going to be a little pain and a little bit of friction as we go through this process, but there’s no gain without the pain,” he said. “It’s part of us all evolving and accepting the new reality for what it is.”