In one month from now, when we ring in 2022, few people would ever have imagined that COVID-19 would still be here. It will soon be two years since the pandemic first hit the U.S., in March 2020.
As Americans adjust to pandemic life, we’ve adjusted to Zoom calls, wearing masks, and, increasingly, offering up digital vaccine passports—which allows users to upload their proof of vaccination status on an app, and carry with them on their phone.
Digital vaccine passports are steadily becoming a feature of our lives, as people are being frequently asked to show proof of vaccination at different points along a trip, whether that is to board an international flight, dine at a restaurant, visit a museum or attend a concert. As the pandemic becomes a longer-term fixture in our lives (and, possibly, continues to mutate into never-ending variants), vaccine passes are soaring in use, and one company is uniquely positioned to benefit.
Bindle is a health verification app that allows restaurants, hotels, and other venues to verify a person's vaccine status, and it is growing exponentially in popularity. The app “has hundreds of clients spanning more than 30 states, from blue strongholds like California and New York to red leaners like Texas, Florida, and Missouri,” according to Forbes. Bindle CEO Gus Warren tells the magazine: “In the past four months, Bindle has seen a 10-times increase in inbound requests for our technology. More and more locations recognize the virus is becoming endemic and fraudulent paper credentials are an ongoing issue.”
A Bona Fide Passport
The sale and use of fraudulent vaccine cards has risen dramatically, as people who are unvaccinated try to use said cards to enter their favorite restaurant or hotel. Organizations like the New York City Department of Investigations and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have recently cracked down on the sale of fake vaccine cards, with New York Sanitation Department spokesman Joshua Goodman recently saying, “"These are very concerning allegations. Getting vaccinated is important to public health, and we do not tolerate anyone faking something that is a requirement of city employment." As a way to restrict fraudulent vaccine cards, apps like Bindle are a route to enter establishments the correct way.
Unlike countries like Argentina, France and Italy, the United States does not have an official, nationwide vaccine passport. But private corporations like Bindle, and statewide vaccine passports like New York’s Excelsior Pass, are stepping in to fill the gap.
Forbes reports that Bindle is not the only service available for a digital vaccine passport. Another option is the SMART Health Card, which was developed by VCI, a coalition of public and private organizations including Google, that bills itself as “the trusted standard for vaccine verification.” This version of the vaccine passport is being offered in states like California, Utah, Colorado, Louisiana, New York and New Jersey. Oregon and Massachusetts, and a smattering of others are expected to soon join.
'Privacy by Design'
Brian Anderson, the chief digital health physician at the non-profit MITRE Health, says a balance can be struck between legitimate privacy concerns and keeping people safe by vaccine verification.
Anderson tells Forbes, “There’s no central database. All of the private data is encrypted, it’s safe, it’s stored on your device. When the QR [quick response] code is pulled up on a SMART Health Card, only the individual’s name, date of birth and vaccination information is visible. Nothing to do with your longitudinal health record or any other sensitive information [is displayed]. It's just the very basic vaccination information, and that is privacy by design. We intended it to be that way.”
Despite Brian Anderson’s assurances, others are wary about vaccine passports. Mass protests have sprung up, from Italy
to New York City
here at home. The executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, Albert Fox Cahn, tells Gothamist
, “There’s a lot of reason to believe it [a vaccine passport] would enforce digitized segregation.”
The debate over vaccine passports here in America is continuing, as fierce as ever. Republican Governor Greg Abbott of Texas banned state agencies
from demanding proof of vaccination via vaccine passports; Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has taken steps
to ban businesses from requiring them; and Hawaii recently announced an expanded vaccine passport
As COVID stays with us for longer than expected due to the new Omicron variant
(and others we unfortunately may have yet to welcome), vaccine passports, and the debate over their use, is likely to stay.
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