UK to begin roll-out of vaccine passport

11 May 2021766 Views

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Proponents of vaccine passports or certificates hope the tech will help reopen economies safely for those who are fully vaccinated.

The UK will start rolling out its vaccine passport system in England next week in what will be a major test for reopening an economy with a digital certificate.

England’s NHS app, which allows users to arrange doctor appointments and view medical records, will also soon be able to show that a person has been vaccinated. The UK’s Department of Health said users can access their vaccination status on the app from next Monday (17 May) and a paper format can also be requested.

Vaccine passports or certificates have been mooted as ways for economies to reopen for those who have been fully vaccinated. Denmark has launched a similar app to allow for access to restaurants and football matches.

But the UK’s vaccine campaign has moved at a much more advanced pace compared with the rest of Europe and the country has an ambitious plan for full reopening in June.

For people hoping to book their holidays abroad, there will be some challenges though.

“There are not many countries that currently accept proof of vaccination,” the UK Department of Health said. “So for the time being most people will still need to follow other rules when travelling abroad – like getting a negative pre-departure test.”

There’s a patchwork of vaccine passports and certificates in development in both the private and public sectors.

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IBM has developed a Digital Health Pass built on blockchain technology, and state officials in New York have worked with IBM on an app to allow access to concerts and sports events.

The EU is hammering out the finer details of its digital green certificate that would show if someone has been vaccinated or has tested negative for Covid-19. European officials hope to have this up and running by the summer, but the clock is ticking. The European Parliament and Council are holding negotiations today (11 May).

Member states, especially the Mediterranean countries that are dependent on the summer tourism trade, are keen to get the system operational before Europe sees another summer lost.

In Ireland, meanwhile, IBM and Salesforce have been tapped to develop an Irish vaccine passport app.

At the same time, the technology is fraught with concerns over privacy and security around how much data will be collected, how it will be used and how long it will be stored for.

With the various apps in use across different industries – including Irish-founded biometrics firm Daon, which is developing standalone Covid-19 apps for airlines – it’s not yet clear how or if they will be interoperable.

Updated, 4.45pm, 11 May 2020: A previous version of this article said the vaccine passport will be available in the UK through the NHS Covid-19 app. This was updated to clarify that the system will be available in England from next week through the standard NHS app.

Jonathan Keane is a freelance business and technology journalist based in Dublin

editorial@siliconrepublic.com