When you finally receive your first COVID-19 vaccination, you might be a bit confused about the card you will be handed that day.
It’s called a COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card, a wallet-sized paper document issued by the Centers for Disease Control, containing information about the vaccine you’ve received. It will include a small sticker denoting the vaccine manufacturer and lot number, the date when the vaccine was submitted and the location.
It may feel like a great relief to hold this card in your hands. (You might also be tempted to post it proudly on social media, which you should resist because scammers have been known to create and sell counterfeit cards and can use images for that purpose.)
But what, exactly, is this card, anyway? What can it do for you?
The answer is that the cards don’t really have much intrinsic value. They are basically just flimsy, paper records of the fact that you’ve been vaccinated. Mostly, they serve as reminders of when you should return for your second shot and also provide an assurance that it will be the right vaccine.
To be sure, there may be unofficial benefits to possessing this card. Social gatherings, for instance, will be less stressful if everyone present has the card.
The Next Wave: Vaccine Passports
But if the world is to start moving toward normality, it needs something more secure than a vaccination record card. There needs to be a widely recognized digital card or app that can offer quick assurance that the holder has been vaccinated.
We’re already moving in that direction, with talk about a “vaccine passport.” On January 21, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. signed an executive order calling for government agencies to “assess the feasibility” of linking the vaccination certificates with other vaccination documents and producing digital versions of them.
The International Air Transport Association has been working on development of an IATA Travel Pass, which would provide globally recognized proof that the holder has been properly vaccinated. The first use of that pass will be launched soon by Dubai’s Emirates and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, who both say it will be used on selected flights.
Among national governments, Denmark appears to be the first to roll out its own COVID-19 vaccination card, which might be in use by spring.
In the private sector, meanwhile, IBM has announced the development of Digital Health Pass, which would allow organizations to verify the health of employees, customers, and visitors. IBM is also promoting its use in the travel and transportation industries and in sports and entertainment venues.
Another is the CommonPass app, which will allow users to upload vaccination information to generate a health certificate in the form of a QR code that can be shown without revealing sensitive medical information. The platform is the product of the Common Trust Network, an initiative by Geneva-based nonprofit The Commons Project and the World Economic Forum.
The looming development of these digital cards and apps clearly signals that there will be a new category of public event for the duration of the pandemic: Those that are restricted solely to people who have been inoculated.
Title III of the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits “public accommodations” from applying factors that screen out individuals with disabilities but does allow them to refuse entry to a person who is deemed a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others. Are unimmunized people a direct threat? Will COVID-19 vaccines pass muster as a legitimate safety requirement for public events? Those appear to be legal questions that are yet to be answered.
Health experts say it could be at least until the middle of 2022 before global herd immunity will be reached through a combination of infections and vaccinations. So for the duration we will probably need to carry our digital vaccination proof with us wherever we go.
This appears to be the new normal.