Building Robust and Ethical Vaccination Verification Systems


The rapid development of an effective COVID-19 vaccine provides hope that the pandemic might be brought to an end, but as societies roll out vaccines and begin to open up, policymakers face difficult questions about how to best verify individuals’ vaccine records. Building vaccine record verification (VRV) systems that are robust and ethical will be vital to reopening businesses, educational institutions, and travel. Historically, such systems have been the domain of governments and have relied on paper records, but, now, a variety of non-profit groups, corporations, and academic researchers are developing digital verification systems. These digital vaccine passports include the CommonPass app developed by the World Economic Forum to verify COVID-19 test results and vaccine status, as well as similar systems several major tech companies are actively exploring. VRV systems present both opportunities and risks in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. They offer hope of more accurate verification of vaccine status, but they also run the risk of both exacerbating existing health and economic inequalities and introducing significant security and privacy vulnerabilities. To mitigate those risks, we propose a series of principles that ought to guide the deployment of VRV systems by public health authorities, policymakers, health care providers, and software developers. In particular, we argue that VRV systems ought to align with vaccine prioritization decisions; uphold fairness and equity; and be built on trustworthy technology.

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Brookings TechStream 2021

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