At a concert you usually come with your ticket, either electronic or physical, and stand ready to have it scanned. Now imagine going to that same show and, while someone is scanning your ticket, they also ask for your vaccine ID. So you pull it up on your phone and let them scan it too, allowing the venue to verify you’re up to date on your Covid-19 vaccine. It’s only then that you are allowed to see the show.
This isn’t a farfetched scenario. A group of businesses from the healthcare sector are banding together to create digital vaccine ID cards that verify Covid-19 vaccination status. In the future these cards, which can be stored on smartphones and other digital devices, may be required to gain entry into restaurants, bars, schools and airplanes. It’s a step that might be necessary in order to reopen the economy as quickly as possible.
“Hopefully we can quickly bring people who are vaccinated back into the workplace,” says Joan Harvey, president of care solutions at Evernorth. Evernorth is one of the groups working to develop these ID cards, along with MITRE, Cerner, Epic, Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, Oracle, Salesforce, The Commons Project and other major companies. Together they’re forming the Vaccination Credential Initiative, which plans to create an accessible, secure way to prove Covid-19 vaccination status. These SMART health cards will be an encrypted vaccine record that can be stored in any digital wallet. For those that don’t have smartphones, says Brian Anderson, chief digital health physician at MITRE, the vaccine records can “easily be stored on a paper QR code.”
Though some of the companies that have joined the coalition have never worked together before, representatives say that they’ve been united by a desire to end the pandemic as soon as possible. For example, Cerner and Epic, two of the largest competing electronic medical records companies in the country, have both joined the coalition and are working together to create an ID card that will easily integrate with both of the company’s platforms. “A pandemic has an incredible catalytic power to bring together nontraditional partners,” Anderson says, “partners that might otherwise be competitors.” And while the coalition is made up of companies from the private sector, they’re also working closely with the government, he adds.
Vaccine ID cards aren’t a new idea. Several countries already require proof of vaccination against diseases like Yellow Fever before travelers are allowed to enter. Even right now, healthcare workers who have gotten the Covid-19 vaccine have a white piece of paper that lists the date of vaccination. But vaccine ID cards like this “would be on a completely different scale,” says Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease physician. It could be the first time that proof of vaccination is required to do things that were previously mundane, like eat at a restaurant or go to work. Of course, Kuppalli says, “I think there are a lot of ethical issues that we have to think about before we go down this path.”
R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, agrees that there are several ethical hurdles that could arise. While public and private entities could make proof of vaccination a condition of entry, she says, there will always be exceptions. “Private employers could make vaccination a general requirement for employees in at-will states,” she says, “but there would have to be exceptions for employees who are medically contraindicated, those who are disabled and unable to take the vaccine, and possibly for those with a religious objection.”
While it remains to be seen whether or not workplaces or schools will require Covid-19 vaccines, it may be that life just becomes a whole lot easier once you can prove that you’ve been vaccinated. “We’re already working with most of the major airlines” as well as many hotels, says Paul Meyer, CEO of The Commons Project. While it’s going to be up to various institutions whether they require people to have proof that they’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19, Meyer says, “there’s going to be a lot of demand through consumers.”
So, when will these new vaccine ID cards be available? “The hope is within the next couple months,” says Meyer, “certainly within this calendar year.” And eventually these vaccine ID cards could be used for more than just the Covid-19 vaccine. They could be a secure, easily transportable way to have your whole health record with the push of a button, making it easier to be treated by different doctors, especially in an emergency.