Do We Need A Vaccine Passport?

I started working at IBM Corporation on June 1, 1967. Two years later, in 1969, I received a letter from President Nixon. It said, “Greeting: You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States”. I entered the U.S. Army on May 29, 1969 weighing 225 pounds. Two years, six months, and 22 days later, I was honorably discharged and weighed 150 pounds. Some day I may write a book about my military experience, but for now my focus is vaccinations. 

The ingestion of recruits and draftees into the Army was quite a process. I remember lining up to get a haircut. No questions were asked, we all cut the same buzz cut. Next was another line (of many) to get vaccinated. They used an air gun. The shot in the arm took a couple of seconds. Each soldier was given a Yellow Card on which the vaccination was recorded.

The International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP), also known as the Yellow Card, or Carte Jaune in French, was the official vaccination record created by the World Health Organization (WHO). As a travel document, it served as a kind of ‘medical passport’ recognized internationally and required for entry to certain countries where there are increased health risks for travelers (or soldiers).

The yellow card is an official medical record, recognized worldwide, of the diseases you’ve been immunized against. It could include a record of vaccination against rabies, shingles, flu, typhoid, pneumonia, diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis, and yellow fever. Various schemes for health passports or vaccination certificates have been proposed for people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

In theory, we all have an electronic health record (EHR) which is a complete record of all our medications, immunizations, conditions, etc. In reality, the EHR is a train wreck. Some people on Medicare may have as many as 15 EHRs from the various providers they may access. EHRs are hard to use. In theory the EHR is a database for the patient. In reality, the EHR does not allow a patient to easily access it, make queries of past blood test results, sort records, export them to other providers, etc. The big user of EHR data is law firms who are representing plaintiffs or defendants in medical liability suits. Unfortunately, the EHR is not a practical solution for proof of vaccination for Covid-19.

For now, we have the Covid-19 Vaccination Record Card, a piece of paper courtesy of the CDC. I don’t think this will be adequate for the days ahead. Australian airline Qantas has already announced it will start requiring coronavirus shots for all passengers on its international flights. Our little easy to counterfeit piece of paper will likely not be satisfactory for the various airlines, cruise lines, sports stadiums, schools, etc. who want to protect themselves from lawsuits for allowing infected people to enter.

A number of technology and travel companies are working on a solution. The best I have seen is from The Commons Project Foundation. CommonPass is a digital health app that enables travelers to present standardized, verifiable proof they tested negative for COVID-19. The Commons Project, The World Economic Forum and a broad coalition of public and private partners are collaborating to launch CommonPass, a trusted, globally-interoperable platform for people to document their COVID-19 status  including health declarations, PCR tests, and vaccinations. The goal is to satisfy country entry requirements while protecting their health data privacy.

The premise behind CommonPass is for global travel and trade to return to pre-pandemic levels, travelers will need a secure and verifiable way to document their health status as they travel and cross borders.  Countries will need to be able to trust that a traveller’s record of a COVID PCR test or vaccination administered in another country is valid. Countries will also need the flexibility to update their health screening entry requirements as the pandemic evolves and science progresses.  Airlines, airports and other travel industry stakeholders will need the same.

CommonPass lets individuals access their lab results and vaccination records, and consent to have the information used to validate their COVID status without revealing any other underlying personal health information.  Lab results and vaccination records can be accessed through existing health data systems, national or local registries or personal digital health records on your Apple or Android device where you can store your health records securely and privately entirely under your control.

The CommonPass platform assesses whether your lab test results or vaccination records come from a trusted source and will satisfy the health screening requirements of the country or facility you want to enter.  CommonPass delivers a simple yes/no answer as to whether you meet the current entry criteria, but the underlying health information stays in the individual’s control.

CommonPass is designed to be accessed directly through other apps and services. For example, Lufthansa has announced an integration of CommonPass into their airline app usable on all flights from Frankfurt to the USA. I expect similar integrations will occur at all major airlines which fly internationally because it can give both travelers and governments confidence in each traveler’s verified COVID-19 status.

Currently, COVID-19 test results are presented on a piece of paper from unknown labs or vaccination sites, often written in languages foreign to those inspecting them. There is no standard format or certification system for lab results. Similarly, vaccination records are generally shared on paper cards that can be easily forged. As countries contemplate relaxing border restrictions and quarantine requirements, they need a more trustworthy model for validating the health status of incoming travelers.

CommonPass is currently in trials. I am on the list to get the app as soon as it is available, which I expect to be very soon. Some are skeptical but having read the details of how CommonPass works, I am completely confident it will be easy to use, secure, and with strong privacy protection. I see it as an enduring app. Unfortunately, Covid-19 is not the last significant virus we will see.