Will COVID passport offer route to freedom?

BOSTON — With millions being vaccinated against COVID-19 every day, some political and business leaders are suggesting rolling out a so-called ‘COVID passport’ to help get life back to normal.

The paper vaccine record card people have been getting after the first shot is meant to serve as a reminder when the second shot is due.

A ‘COVID passport’ would be more official, potentially digital – something you can pull up on your cell phone as an app to verify vaccination status.

President Biden’s administration has asked government agencies to determine the feasibility of linking coronavirus vaccine certificates with other documents and creating digital credentialing.

One of the main challenges is creating an app that is accepted worldwide, that protects privacy and is accessible to people regardless of their wealth or access to smartphones.

“It would be opening different doors for different people. People who are vaccinated would have more opportunities than people who are not vaccinated,” said Wendy Parmet, Matthews University Distinguished Professor of Law and Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University.

Parmet told Boston 25 News the concept raises ethical and legal issues that need to be addressed.

“If people have legitimate medical reasons or disabilities for not getting vaccinated, we need to make sure they are not double penalized because they can’t be vaccinated,” explained Parmet. “We don’t want to undermine solidarity and create a world of more privileged, less privileged people.”

Other experts believe the idea of a COVID passport makes sense.

“That’s the point, trying to get people incentivized to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “If a person is vaccinated, you may see them be able to opt out of that onerous process to be able to go into a country without friction or bureaucratic wrangling to get in.”

Doctor Adalja told Boston 25 News there are lessons to be learned from the yellow card that’s required by some African and South American countries to prove vaccination status for yellow fever.

“Several years ago, there was trafficking and fake yellow fever certificates to allow people to travel without the vaccine,” said Adalja.

There are efforts underway to produce a digital version that would be less susceptible to fraudulent duplication.

“There’s a lot of big tech companies trying to develop some apps that will coordinate and work with the airlines to provide it in one space,” said Dr. Brian Cruz, Regional Medical Director with PhysicianOne Urgent Care.

Cruz said in addition to traveling, the passports may eventually be required to participate in certain activities and potentially mandated in places of work, universities and even businesses.

“Each country and each state has to determine what they are going to use it for,” added Cruz.

Some versions of digital passports that are being worked on will also allow people to show if they’ve tested negative for the virus for those who have not yet been vaccinated.

Other countries are working on implementing similar digital credentialing.

Denmark’s government announced it will be rolling out a digital passport in the next three or four months.

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