Vaccine certificates or “passports” are becoming more commonplace, with access to restaurants, event venues, and even workplaces increasingly dependent on proof of vaccination against COVID-19. To better understand how different jurisdictions are implementing digital vaccine certificates, researchers from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, including CITF-funded researcher Dr. Kumanan Wilson, performed a review of available literature to identify vaccine certificate policies being put into effect around the globe. The peer-reviewed manuscript has been published in Human Vaccines and Immunotherapeutics.

The authors sought to evaluate vaccine certificate programs, looking at purpose and use, type of technology employed, and ethical and legal implications. They identified 70 articles using a standardized format from online sources and categorized and analyzed them according to key themes. Technology emerged as the most dominant theme followed by ethics, travel, legal concerns, public policy, and scientific concerns (one article regarding the length and strength of immunity).

Key Points:

  • Eight COVID-19 vaccine certificate programs were identified worldwide, all of which use blockchain technology, which is the gold-standard in terms of security.
  • At the time of publication, COVID-19 vaccine certificates were being considered in 11 countries (including the European Union) and were in place in five others, including several Canadian provinces.
  • The use of vaccine certificates comes with some ethical challenges, which need to be addressed by equitable policies. Implementation of vaccine certificates, for example, must not marginalize those who do not have access to technology or choose not to use it. Paper-based alternatives could be an option.
  • International bodies have voiced the need for a single set of standards to allow multiple platforms to be integrated as individuals move across borders.

Governments are moving forward with digital platforms for COVID-19 vaccine certificates. In federal systems, such as Canada, there can be substantial challenges in harmonizing regional and provincial/territorial government efforts with national programs. The initial solutions identified by Dr. Wilson and colleagues promote the use of blockchain technology. The authors emphasize the need for vaccine certificate programs to be adopted in an ethical manner that does not exclude those who do not have access to technology.

Mithani SS, Bota AB, Zhu DT, Wilson K. A scoping review of global vaccine certificate solutions for COVID-19. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2021 Oct 6.  doi:10.1080/21645515.2021.1969849