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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Companies are preparing to design digital immunity certificates for COVID-19 that could be used when a vaccine is available.

Why it matters: The vaccine won't roll out to everyone at the same time, so we need some way for those who have been immunized to easily demonstrate that they can safely return to work and travel. The easiest way might be a digital certificate that can be linked to a passport or even a mobile phone.

Background: The World Health Organization already issues paper "yellow cards" that act as an international certification of vaccination, primarily to be used when entering a country that has enhanced health risks to travelers.

  • But a paper certificate, as experts warned in a white paper released earlier this year, could be subject to fraud and would be too difficult to quickly scale up for hundreds of millions of people.
  • Digital certificates, though, could be rapidly and safely distributed and made easily verifiable at borders or even in businesses, says Lars Reger, the CTO of the semiconductor company NXP, which makes biometric technology now used in some passports.

How it works: Digital certificates could be added onto biometric passports or other smart ID cards that already contain a small chip that is used to confirm the identity of the holder.

  • Another option would be to make use of the contactless payment system currently available in most recent smartphones, which could "easily transport the information that someone has certified immunity," says Reger.
  • Rolling out such a functionality to smartphones would eliminate the need for investing in new technology, and any business that can read contactless payments should be able to accept immunity certificates with just a software update, he says.

The catch: Some critics worry digital immunity certificates could cause discrimination between those who can show immunity and those who can't.

  • We also have to be sure those who receive such certificates really are immune, an immunological uncertainty that torpedoed earlier plans to issue certificates to those who had contracted the disease.

The bottom line: The real challenge around digital immunity certificates isn't the relatively easy technology, but the hard ethical challenges around ensuring everyone ultimately has access to a workable vaccine.

Go deeper: The coming coronavirus vaccine chaos

Go deeper

13 hours ago - Health

Key information about the effective COVID-19 vaccines

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The race for a COVID-19 vaccine is ramping up, with three major candidates now reporting efficacy rates of more than 90%.

Why it matters: Health experts say the world can't fully return to normal until a coronavirus vaccine is widely distributed. But each potential vaccine has its own nuances, and it's likely that multiple vaccines will be needed in order to supply enough doses for universal vaccination.

Dave Lawler, author of World
10 hours ago - World

Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine won't just go to rich countries

Waiting, in New Delhi. Photo: Jewel Samad/AFP via Getty Images

While the 95% efficacy rates for the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are great news for the U.S. and Europe, Monday's announcement from Oxford and AstraZeneca may be far more significant for the rest of the world.

Why it matters: Oxford and AstraZeneca plan to distribute their vaccine at cost (around $3-4 per dose), and have already committed to providing over 1 billion doses to the developing world. The price tags are higher for the Pfizer ($20) and Moderna ($32-37) vaccines.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Key information about the effective COVID-19 vaccines — Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine won't just go to rich countries.
  2. Health: U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations keep breaking recordsWhy we're numb to 250,000 deaths.
  3. World: England to impose stricter regional systemU.S. hotspots far outpacing Europe's — Portugal to ban domestic travel for national holidays.
  4. Economy: The biggest pandemic labor market drags.
  5. Sports: Coronavirus precautions leave college basketball schedule in flux.