The first approved coronavirus vaccine has arrived, with distribution beginning over the weekend for Pfizer’s vaccine. It’s the culmination of an unprecedented feat of scientific achievement, which puts the end of the coronavirus pandemic in sight.
The news of the vaccine has left many wondering exactly how the vaccine will allow some measure of normality to resume. And a report over the weekend indicated that an app, allowing users to show proof of their vaccination, will be part of that process.
The New York Times reported Sunday that at least three airlines, including United, JetBlue and Lufthansa, will use an app called CommonPass, in order to “verify passengers’ virus test results—and soon, vaccinations.” This will allow users to produce a code that will allow them to board international flights.
It’s an old idea, per The Times, as vaccination certificates have been used in the past following pandemics, including the Spanish Flu in the early twentieth-century. And the government has already announced that it plans to present vaccination cards to those who have received the vaccine.
The app idea isn’t entirely new, either. In the early days of the pandemic, a company called NetObjex announced the impending arrival of an app called COVID PreCheck, which promised to connect users to antibody testing centers, and eventually provide a QR code showing immunity. However, that app is not currently available in the App Store. Another app of that sort, Clear’s Health Pass, is available now. In addition, an app called Digital Health Pass, from IBM, is in testing, per the Times, and “is in discussions with a major sports stadium.”
The idea could be adapted, eventually, to movie theaters, concert venues, cruise ships, and other places looking to reopen once the pandemic is over.
CommonPass, according to its website, was created by a nonprofit called The Commons Project, which was first used in East Africa, and has since partnered with the World Economic Forum.
“For global travel and trade to return to pre-pandemic levels, travelers will need a secure and verifiable way to document their health status as they travel and cross borders,” the site says. “Countries will need to be able to trust that a traveller’s record of a COVID PCR test or vaccination administered in another country is valid. Countries will also need the flexibility to update their health screening entry requirements as the pandemic evolves and science progresses. Airlines, airports and other travel industry stakeholders will need the same.”
The app is currently “in trials,” the site said.
There are, however, thorny ethical considerations here. Such an app, by its very nature, would likely discriminate against those without smartphones, and possibly create a bifurcated society between those with the immunity certification and those without it.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.