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A COVID Vaccine Certificate: Building on Lessons from Digital ID for the Digital Yellow Card

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A COVID Vaccine Certificate: Building on Lessons from Digital ID for the Digital Yellow Card

18th February 2021

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COVID-19 vaccination efforts are well and truly underway across the world. In addition to those in Europe and North America, vaccination campaigns are gathering pace across China, India, Russia, and the Middle East, though lagging in many other, mostly poor, countries. As more start scaling up their own programs and the number of vaccinated people increases over the coming year, a COVID Vaccine Certificate (CVC) is likely to become an important tool to help monitor and manage the rollout of vaccinations and get national economies back on track. Such a credential will also be needed to facilitate the safe movement of people across countries, including to rejuvenate the tourism industry, which is important for many developing countries.

Since a vaccination certificate is a form of functional ID, with one component consisting of data related to the vaccination—such as date, vaccine, place of vaccination, and other relevant information—and the other the identity of the holder, it may be useful to consider some lessons learned from the rollout of identification (ID) systems across the world.

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One thing is clear: the CVC will be a formidable challenge, not only to international cooperation, but because it will need to be implemented in the course of mass vaccination campaigns across countries with very different health management systems and ID systems and with a constantly evolving situation.

Background

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In the early phase of the pandemic, some countries floated the idea of “immunity passports” for people who had recovered from COVID-19, but with divergence in scientific and public health opinion, none of the proposals has actually been implemented. In contrast, the CVC would indicate vaccination status along the lines of the paper-based International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, the so-called Yellow Card, but it would need to incorporate digital technology to increase its level of trust. The Yellow Card embodies little protection against alteration or forgery or that the holder is the person indicated on the card.

There are by now several major initiatives to develop COVID-19 vaccination tracking systems. These include the collaborative effort by the WHO and Estonia to develop a “smart Yellow Card” to help strengthen the effectiveness of the COVAX initiative and the DIVOC platform under development in India to help achieve its ambitious vaccine rollout plan. Both of these systems extend beyond the goal of facilitating international travel to help countries manage the vaccine rollout through a period with large uncertainties, especially as COVID-19 strains continue to evolve and propagate across the world. The CommonPass is yet another initiative, supported by the World Economic Forum.

Report by the Centre for Global Development

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