Vaccine Passports Are Not New

The world is currently debating the issue of ‘vaccine passports’ that would provide proof of vaccination against Covid-19 to help resume international travel and, in some cases, be used nationally to allow access for vaccinated people to places. public, restaurants, pubs and so on.

However, staunch critics of all government regulations decry it as yet another intrusion on individual privacy.

Documents confirming vaccination status are not only already widely used, but have contributed to the eradication (or at least control) of deadly diseases since their introduction in the 1930s, through the International Sanitary Convention for Air Navigation. , which targets smallpox, yellow fever, typhus and cholera.

It is still used today, mainly as a yellow fever vaccination record as well as for other vaccinations, which can be useful in case you need emergency care abroad.

yellow vaccination card
Here is my own yellow card (yellow card) / Image Credit: Michael Petraeus

Tried and tested to help save lives

Today, various countries require proof of vaccination for entry or even transfer, for three diseases: yellow fever, polio, and meningococcal meningitis.

42 countries are currently classified as high-risk destinations for yellow fever, and 127 countries require vaccination against the disease if they are traveling to or coming from these high-risk destinations. This means that the obligation to present proof of inoculation is already quite widespread.

Even before Covid-19, you couldn’t travel to many countries without confirmation of a proper vaccination.

yellow fever vaccination
Yellow fever vaccination / Image credit: Wikipedia
Vaccination against polio
Polio vaccination / Image credit: Wikipedia
Meningococcal meningitis vaccination
Meningococcal meningitis vaccination / Image credit: Wikipedia

The eradication of one of the deadliest diseases – smallpox – confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1980, was largely achieved thanks to vaccination certificates which required all travelers to be vaccinated .

It’s hard to imagine how the world would have behaved without these conditions, given the advent of international air travel after WWII and a rapid increase in the world’s population.

Smallpox vaccination certificate
Smallpox vaccination certificate / Image credit: WHO

In other words, there is no reason to reject the idea of ​​vaccine passports, as not only have they been in use for almost a century now, but they have demonstrably led to the protection of millions of lives in the world. world.

Today, the question is not whether or not we should use them; this is hardly debatable. The question is: how to improve them?

We should learn from Africa

To seek out innovative ideas, it often makes sense to look to those on the front lines – in this case, those who are both most prone to disease and associated problems such as falsifying paper certificates.

Let’s look at Africa.

No one cares about having their yellow card falsified in the West or in developed Asia. People gladly take the photo which is available and affordable (and no one wants to risk their health for a few dollars).

But this is not necessarily the case for many Africans, who may not have access to adequate health care or cannot afford a vaccine; this is why the false yellow cards have been a peril for the continent.

Its most populous country, Nigeria, decided to tackle the problem two years ago by developing an electronic vaccination certificate – an electronic yellow card with a QR code confirming the person’s identity and doing so. that she received the vaccine.

nigeria yellow card
eYellow Card in Nigeria / Yellow Card Nigeria

The solution became mandatory for all Nigerian residents in mid-2019, a few months before the Covid-19 outbreak.

In the meantime, other countries like Zimbabwe have also developed similar solutions and even managed to deploy them during this pandemic.

Vaxiglobal, a Harare-based organization working with the WHO Africa Innovation Team since 2018, has launched a blockchain-based solution for vaccination certification that generates a QR code in a mobile app or on paper, which can provide instant verification to immigration officers at the border.

Vaxiglobal application COVID-19 IA test certificate
An example of a document generated by the Vaxiglobal application

The system was commissioned in the first half of 2020 and is currently being used to track PCR test results for Covid-19, confirming negative or positive status. It is currently being extended for use with Covid-19 vaccines, when the country will be able to start the inoculation process.

Why use Blockchain?

The deployment of the new technology best known for its use in the cryptocurrency market could provide an acceptable compromise for all those concerned with privacy as well as for governments who want to ensure transparent, corruption-free verification systems. and without counterfeiting. .

After all, there have already been reports of vaccine sales and fake vaccine passports in the dark corners of the internet.

The use of the blockchain makes it possible to verify whether the traveler has been vaccinated without carrying or transmitting personally sensitive information.

Plus, unlike any other technology, the actual data storage is decentralized. This means that there is no single server or data center that could be breached and sensitive information could be leaked. This is a major advantage and a strong argument for those who are skeptical of the centralized government oversight that infiltrates our lives.

The opportunity we have with blockchain is to deliver the same result without risking centralizing the data in one place. This is really what blockchain technology gives us: decentralized verified credentials. I don’t think we have another way of doing it.

– Eric Piscini, Global Vice President of Emerging Enterprise Networks for IBM, in conversation with Forbes

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean Vaxiglobal is currently in talks with the South African government regarding the implementation of the system in the country and later in the 15 member states of the Southern African Development Community.

“The team is working with biometric data companies to make verification even easier, thanks to a cloud-based biometric data system that doesn’t even need QR codes,” the WHO reported.

As Europeans and Americans bicker with each other over possible ‘vaccination certificate discrimination’ or that such documents compromise privacy and violate personal freedoms, it turns out Africans have already found very good solutions to the problem.

Instead of treating it as one, we should see it as an opportunity to update a great idea that has saved millions of lives over the past century and now deserves a digital overhaul.

Just as mRNA vaccines needed this global catastrophe to show their usefulness, blockchain may have its first global use to save lives and livelihoods.

Featured Image Credit: Health Magazine

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Jothi Venkat

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