As we reach the end of 2020, the world can finally foresee the imminent end of the coronavirus pandemic. Pharmaceutical companies are in the process of developing COVID-19 vaccines, and some have even started administrating them to the general public in the first phase. Very soon, there will be widespread immunization at the global level to build long lasting protection against the deadly virus.
The vaccination process will most likely follow the pathways similar to those of other infectious diseases like influenza, hepatitis, and chickenpox. Yet, due to its highly contagious nature, there is a dire need to create a system that confirms whether an individual has been vaccinated until the disease becomes rare or completely dies down. This is important for the easy mobility of individuals and prevents further spreading across borders. Every entity, including healthcare facilities, governments, organizations, schools, friends, and acquaintances, will want to know who has (or hasn’t) received the COVID-19 vaccine.
This identification will be more complicated with the provision of various vaccines in the market simultaneously, each having its immunization protocols. Some will need multiple doses, increasing the complexity of identifying recipients. We will require authentic COVID immunization passports or certificates to show at national and international levels while protecting individual privacy at the same time. To deal with this potential issue, a digital solution that matches individuals receiving the vaccine against their identity can help.
What Can Be the Possible Solution?
Many of us are familiar with the Yellow Card, a vaccine certificate for Yellow Fever and Small Pox developed by the World Health Organization. However, this card can be very easily forged. For the COVID vaccine to be effective, a digital solution is required. We need a central system where every individual has a smart card or a digital certificate integrated with their unique national identity numbers such as a passport or identity card.
This framework is necessary to instantly find out who is and who isn’t vaccinated against the novel coronavirus. It is also required by governments to track who is already vaccinated and who is yet to be vaccinated. This solution can then be applied to all other vaccines as well. If governments successfully create a trusted means of vaccination, it will create further demand for immunizations and possibly stimulate herd immunity by the end of 2021.
Governments Must be Involved
The essential factor to consider here is that governments must take ownership of the entire process. The existence of a central system requires governments to create and manage immunization registries for the public. Without the government’s support, even the most sophisticated systems will not be successful. Consider the example of Google and Apple developing high-tech applications of contact-tracing. Both systems had the potential to be highly effective and could be adopted by most mobile phones. But since they didn’t get governmental support, they were not readily adopted and subsequently failed.
Using Existing Systems
Many countries are considering using their already existing systems to incorporate with their immunization program. India, for instance, can use its Aadhaar system to administer and track around 5 million vaccines per day. Kenya can use its Huduma Namba national identity system in the same way, and so can all other countries with smart national identity systems. In China, the government is considering using QR codes to identify individuals with covid-19 immunity based on their nucleic acid test results. In Canada, the CANImmune system is a free digital immunization record for citizens that can be further adapted for COVID-19 vaccinations. All these systems can be linked to government-issued passports to ease international traveling for citizens.
Developing New Solutions
Many organizations are also suggesting other solutions for this purpose. For instance, biometric data can be linked to smart cards, mobile phone software, or physical tokens. However, one downside of biometrics fingerprint data is the need to clean fingerprint readers after every use.
The World Health Organization and Estonia have recently announced a collaboration to develop a smart yellow card based on blockchain technology. This makes more sense since tracking vaccination activities on a public, undisputable record is an ideal use-case for the distributed ledger technology.
How the Government can Convince People
Ever since the start of the pandemic, there have been many false rumors and speculations. One such rumor that gained a lot of public attention is that the pandemic is an intentional plan devised by Bill Gates to implant traceable microchips inside the human body.
Many people are still against receiving immunization and believe that tracking vaccine recipients is an authoritarian move by the government. In fact, convincing people to accept it voluntarily is not the government’s job, but rather that of healthcare professionals and health organizations such as WHO. The more public health officials endorse a vaccine’s usage, the better are the chances for people to get convinced of its authenticity and urgency.
While many solutions are still in their early planning stages, many questions need to be considered before a final solution can be effectively implemented. Whatever answer, it should incorporate and tackle community issues, fair immunization process, and complete confidentiality of patient data.