Mar 5, 2021 - Economy

The rise of vaccine passports

Illustration of a syringe in an open briefcase

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Vaccine passports were touted early in the pandemic as an important piece of the plan to get people back to normal life. Now they’re becoming a reality.

Driving the news: CLEAR, the secure digital identity app that you see in airports around the world, and CommonPass, a health app that lets users securely access vaccination records and COVID test results, have joined forces.

  • The result is an app that'll tell planes you're cleared to fly, arenas you're cleared to watch the ball game, and Vegas casinos you're cleared to head to the slot machines — all while promising to keep your health data private.

"This is about helping people get back to what they love," CLEAR CEO Caryn Seidman-Becker tells Axios. "This isn’t about we’ll get back to you in a year. This is about reopening tomorrow."

What's happening: Any of the millions of Americans who have been vaccinated will be able to use CommonPass to access and verify that vaccination record — and display it to airlines, resorts or other businesses through the CLEAR app.

  • CLEAR works with a number of health data aggregators as well as directly with labs to verify customers' COVID test results. With the new CommonPass partnership, CLEAR will be able to display vaccination status as well.
  • It’s not that simple, though. Of course, there can be all sorts of problems when trying to find and verify data, given the vast number of vaccine providers and their different ways of collecting records. For example, there’s a chance users will run into snags if they received the vaccine at a small hospital that doesn’t keep digital records.

What to watch: The promise of a return to normal with vaccine passports could also bring back scores of jobs in cities like Las Vegas that are full of service, hospitality and entertainment roles that have been decimated by the pandemic.

Yes, but: With widespread vaccination on the horizon, vaccine or test result passports might be coming too late. Many Americans who have been working and playing from home may continue to stay put until most of the country is vaccinated anyway.

Still, the CLEAR and CommonPass collaboration could have applications beyond the pandemic, says Paul Meyer, CEO of the Commons Project, a developer of CommonPass.

  • The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of telehealth, and the app offers a quick and secure way to share recent lab results or other health data with a doctor during a virtual consultation.
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