Government’s paper vaccine certificates would create a catalogue of problems.

The UK Government’s plans to require holidaymakers to ask their GP for a paper vaccine certificate would encourage fraud, create unnecessary work for GPs and patients and would be unlikely to be accepted as attested proof by many more forward-thinking nations, UK experts have warned.

Chris Justice, President of BLOK BioScience, has urged the Government to join the global Good Health Pass Collaborative¹ of health, travel, technology and government organisations looking to create a blueprint for universally accepted digital health credentials that are privacy-protecting, user-controlled and globally interoperable.

Warning that the Government’s preference for paper vaccine certificates risks creating a range of problems for the public, healthcare professionals and law enforcement, while also reducing the UK’s standing on the global stage, Chris gives five reasons why an ethical privacy-focused digital-based health pass should be introduced, based on Self Sovereign ID technology.

Our personal data is more private and secure

Right now people don’t know where their Covid-19 health data is being stored or how it could be used in the future. This is a risk as NHS databases could be compromised², paper certificates are easy to lose¹ or people may have concerns over their data being accessed by government or health authorities³.

With a digital health pass built around a Self Sovereign ID, individuals’ test, vaccine and infection data sits exclusively on their device and the raw data is never shared with anyone else. The only communication it needs to give is attested proof that the individual meets the entry criteria of the country or vendor.

There’s no risk of counterfeit vaccine passports

There have already been several reported cases of counterfeit test results being presented¹ ⁴ and that is a huge risk when it comes to managing infections being carried from country to country – including into the UK.

While a paper certificate could be easily counterfeited, a digital health pass can combine attested identity and health credentials and allow an individual to prove that they meet a country’s entry criteria and are who they say they are. It is likely that an easy to counterfeit paper certificate will not be sufficient to access many countries.

They can be ethical and inclusive, if designed appropriately

The UK vaccine minister has said that vaccine passports are “discriminatory”⁵ but that really doesn’t have to be the case.

We firmly believe that vaccine passports should be designed in a digital-first form for maximum privacy, security and usability but that doesn’t mean that people without access to a smartphone would be excluded. Inclusivity models such as guardianship or providing secure access through a printed QR code just need to be built in – our own BLOK Pass is ID2020 certified⁶ for meeting 41 outcomes-based technical and ethical standards.

They would reduce bureaucracy and save time and money

It has been suggested that patients may need to book a GP appointment and pay £30 for a vaccination certificate⁷. Why should they?

This would be a costly inconvenience for both GPs and patients, and the British Medical Association has already said that patients should be given easy online access to their records for this reason⁷.

If people have access to their personal vaccination and testing data and they can use it for personal benefit then they are more likely to opt into vaccination programmes, which has public health advantages.

Anonymous insights could be a key tool in the battle against Covid

Imagine a world where experts can access completely anonymous Covid-19 data in real-time as part of a coordinated national programme that allows us to quickly respond to new variants, regional outbreaks and vaccine side-effects – without ever compromising people’s privacy.

This level of insight could be a game-changer in the battle against the virus but we would only ever be able to secure the level of adoption needed if we address people’s concerns about privacy and security, and make it attractive to sign-up for.

References

¹ Good Health Pass Collaborative: A safe path to global reopening

² The National Cyber Security Centre Annual Review 2020 shows that there were 51,000 indicators of compromise of NHS IP addresses

³ Simon N Williams Phd, Christopher J Armitage PhD, Tova Tampe PhD, Kimberley Dienes PhD. Public attitudes towards Covid-19 contact tracing apps: A UK-based focus group study. Health Expectations journal. January 2021. The most commonly stated concern was over data privacy and security, with participants expressing “reluctance to have their data accessed by Government or health authorities”

Europol – the European Union’s law enforcement agency – warned that there have already been several cases of fraudulent Covid-19 certificates being sold to travellers and said that technology advances mean that these can increasingly be produced to a high standard. February 2021

Nadhim Zahawi speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show and reported on BBC News Online on 7th February 2021

ID2020 press release. ID2020 announces certification of BLOK Pass from BLOK BioScience. August 2020

Holidaymakers could face £30 charge from GPs for written proof of Covid-19 vaccine before travelling. Daily Mail article. 7th February 2021