'Vaccine passports' are on the way, but developing them won't be easy

www.washingtonpost.com
7 min read
fairly difficult
The effort has taken on momentum amid President Biden's pledge that the nation will start to regain post-pandemic normalcy this summer, and with a growing number of companies saying they will require proof of vaccinations before reopening their doors.
The administration's initiative has been driven largely by arms of the Department of Health and Human Services, including an office devoted to health information technology, said five officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the effort. The White House this month took on a bigger role coordinating government agencies involved in the work, led by coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients, with a goal of announcing updates in coming days, said one official.

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The White House declined to answer questions about the passport initiative, instead pointing to public statements that Zients and other officials made this month.

"Our role is to help ensure that any solutions in this area should be simple, free, open source, accessible to people both digitally and on paper, and designed from the start to protect people's privacy," Zients said at a March 12 briefing.

The initiative has emerged as an early test of the Biden administration, with officials working to coordinate across dozens of agencies and a variety of experts, including military officials helping administer vaccines and health officials engaging in international vaccine efforts.

The passports are expected to be free and available through applications for smartphones, which could display a scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass. Americans without smartphone access should be able to print out the passports, developers have said.

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Other countries are racing ahead with their own passport plans, with the European Union pledging to release digital certificates that would allow for summer travel.

U.S. officials say they are grappling with an array of challenges, including data privacy and health-care equity. They want to make sure all Americans will be able to get credentials that prove they have been vaccinated, but also want to set up systems that are not easily hacked or passports that cannot be counterfeited, given that forgeries are already starting to appear.

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Dan Diamond, Lena H. Sun, Isaac Stanley-Becker
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