Are we all about to miss the boat with globally-recognised COVID-19 travel vaccination records?

 After a year of increasingly disrupted travel and tourism, a number of nations are now rapidly accelerating their COVID-19 vaccination programme.  The US and China have both administered more than 10 million doses, the UK more than 4 million, and quite a number of other countries are rapidly vaccinating.

Arguably the right time to introduce an Immunity Passport  (like the one developed by BlockMark Technologies for Innovate UK) is probably before  a vaccination programme starts. Unfortunately it appears that the horse may have bolted.

So Why are we doing this?

Internationally recognised, easily verifiable vaccination records are going to be a key requirement to enable those who have been inoculated to travel across borders. Travel restrictions are extensive and increasingly fluid; rightly so to prevent new strains of the virus taking hold in new territories.  

Indeed, some parts of the world are very aware of the need to prevent outbreaks of deadly diseases; Yellow Fever being a particularly problematic illness in some African and South American nations where the mosquito provides the necessary vector. 

The Yellow cards

To this end, the World Health Organisation was instrumental in defining a Yellow Fever vaccination card to enable people to demonstrate they have received suitable protection.  In fact, the card goes by the name of the International Certificate of Vaccination and Prophylaxis (ICVP) and although it is most commonly associated with Yellow Fever vaccinations (and itself is yellow in colour), it is also used as a regularly poliomyelitis vaccination certificate and can, as the name suggests, be used for other vaccinations and types of prophylaxis.  And the ICVP is recognised and accepted by the 195 countries that signed up to it.

Hence, this would seem the obvious choice for clinicians to record COVID-19 vaccinations.  The format is defined, the layout is recognised worldwide, and detailed guidelines about its use have been painstakingly agreed.  Some countries (somewhat unilaterally) have also embarked on digital versions mainly for their own enjoyment; Brazil and Nigeria being ahead of the game in this arena. BlockMark Technologies have developed one for Innovate UK and the Department of Health, pharmacies, COVID 19 testers and vaccine manufacturers. 

How can we make this foolproof?

With the original paper version of course, there are problems of fraud; it is quite easy to buy a blank paper ICVP on line or from a street vendor and fill one in yourself.  The disincentive is that this does not give you the protection you may want, but there is a market and it can cause serious issues in stemming an outbreak. 

So, additional measures can be put in place to enhance security, including (although rarely, if ever, performed) cross-checking with the medical centre that was purported to have administered the dose to see if their records concur.

But, we’re now some 32 million COVID-19 doses into the worldwide programme, and it doesn’t look like the ICVP is yet being mandated nor even suggested. 

Moreover, the same format can be replicated as a digital certificate and displayed on smart phones with certainly more verifiable provenance than a paper version.

Authentication can save lives

There’s only one thing  worse than going on an ocean cruise that capsizes like the Costa Concordia  in 2006.

And that’s going on an ocean cruise in 2021 and not learning the lessons of  COVID 19 in 2020. Remember some cruise ships turned into floating prisons or hospital ships – not being able to berth or disembark passengers for weeks and weeks.  There were 800 cases of COVID 19 on three different cruise ships. And without easily verifiable proof – it will happen again. And again.

Not everyone who receives a COVID-19 vaccination will be wanting to travel, but in this day and age, many will.  Dealing with legacy certificates, credentials and records is always problematic.  Here, the global health community had a small window of opportunity to specify a common format ahead of national vaccination programmes, and it looks like we may have missed the boat.  Last call for a truly international certificate of COVID-19 vaccination!  

For more details about how BlockMark Technologies has adapted its enterprise grade BlockMark Registry certification platform to offer digital ICVP-format certificates, please get in touch.

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