vaccine passport on mobile phone (Robert Avgustin/Shutterstock.com)

As vaccine passports emerge, administration takes advisory role

There have been several initiatives to enable the use of vaccine passports, the digital or paper attestations that show an individual is protected against COVID-19,  but the Biden administration is not interested in running any such program, top officials said.

"The government here is not viewing its role as the place to create a passport, nor a place to hold the data of citizens,” White House Senior Advisor for COVID Response Andy Slavitt said at a March 29 briefing. "We view this as something that the private sector is doing and will do."

The government will have a role, though, in working out the details of any passport system, Slavitt said.  An interagency process is currently identifying the criteria for ensuring equitable access, data privacy and accessibility.

"Privacy of the information, security of the information and a marketplace of solutions are all things that are part of what we believe in, as is the ability for people to access this free and in multiple languages," he said.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she didn't have a timeline for the release of any guidelines, which she characterized as "recommendations." Psaki said there would be no "centralized, universal federal vaccinations database and no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential." The government would be encouraging "an open marketplace with a variety of private sector companies and non-profit coalitions developing solutions," she added.

"We want to drive the market toward meeting public interest goals," Psaki said. "So we'll leverage our resources to ensure that all vaccination credential systems meet key standards, whether that's universal accessibility, affordability, availability -- both digitally and on paper."

New York has already launched its version of a vaccine passport for confirming vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. Developed in partnership with IBM, the Excelsior Pass takes a verifiable credential issued by a health organization and sends it to the individual who loads it into their phone. That secure credential, which is displayed as a QR code, can then be verified at venues using the companion scanning app the same way boarding passes are scanned at airports.

The Excelsior Pass and the complementary verification app are built on IBM's blockchain-based Digital Health Pass solution. It allows individuals to share their COVID health status through the encrypted digital wallet on their smartphone without revealing any medical and personal information. 

On March 30, Unisys introduced an integrated COVID-19 testing and health management solution targeting public-sector organizations seeking to protect individuals in buildings, schools or on public transit. Developed in partnership with Inspire Health Alliance, U-Pass provides point of care testing, including mobile walk-up and drive-through test facilities; secure HIPAA-compliant data management; a mobile application for identity, scheduling and testing; and QR code scanners and wearables for temperature monitoring and contact tracing.

It also features secure, point-of-entry kiosks running Unisys Stealth(identity), the company's biometric identity management software, that when combined with a negative test result can verify an individual's identity and allow for safe physical access.

U-Pass also offers project management specialists for support, logistics, installation and test kit supplies as well as simple pricing that helps meet government funding requirements, the company said.

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