New York’s Excelsior Pass, developed by IBM, is essentially a simple digital wallet that can be accessed on mobile devices, which holds three items: your name, a QR code and a green check mark.
The idea is that people can use the app to prove to somebody — say, a ticket-taker at the door of a sports stadium, an airline or the staff at a large event — that they’ve received a vaccine against COVID-19. In actuality, the app can also prove that somebody’s received a negative test for the disease.
I haven’t said this explicitly in a while, so it’s worth saying it again: If you are not vaccinated, the current level of risk out there is much higher than the graphs and charts naively imply. On top of that, the cost of getting Covid now is much higher than it was earlier, both because the new dominant strain is deadlier, and also because the main benefit of getting infected – that you can’t get infected again – no longer matters much since you’ll have vaccine access soon either way and things aren’t so bad out there that prevention is hopeless. You won’t even be able to skip the vaccine, due to people requiring it (plus it’s a good idea anyway, since the cost is trivial).
Not only have we vaccinated over a quarter of the population, and given one dose to over a third of the population, we’ve done so with an emphasis on those most at risk.
That means that if you’re in the remaining two thirds, not only is your risk a third higher than it looks (e.g. almost all the infections will happen to unvaccinated people) but also the risk of death is more than double what it appears, as those at risk have largely been vaccinated early.
In Israel, a vaccine passport was launched last week allowing those who are inoculated to go to hotels and gyms. Saudi Arabia now issues an app-based health passport for those inoculated, while Iceland’s government is doling out vaccine passports to facilitate foreign travel. Last month, President Biden issued executive orders asking government agencies to assess the feasibility of creating digital Covid-19 vaccination certificates.
Proponents of the plans say they will enable battered economies to reopen, even as vaccines are still being rolled out, allowing people to enjoy leisure activities and go to work safe in the knowledge they aren’t harming others or at risk themselves. It could also act as an incentive for people to get the shot.
The concept is potentially fraught with pitfalls. It could discriminate against minority communities, who are less likely to accept the vaccines, according to national surveys, or young people, who are less likely to be given priority to receive them.There are questions about the ethics of granting businesses access to peoples’ health records.