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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

Nov 29, 2020 - Sports

Broncos and 49ers the latest NFL teams impacted by coronavirus crisis

From left, Denver Broncos quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Jeff Driskel during an August training session at UCHealth Training Center in Englewood, Colorado. Photo: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the NFL season into chaos, with all Denver Broncos quarterbacks sidelined, the San Francisco 49ers left without a home or practice ground, and much of the Baltimore Ravens team unavailable, per AP.

Driving the news: The Broncos confirmed in a statement Saturday night that quarterbacks Drew Lock, Brett Rypien and Blake Bortles were identified as "high-risk COVID-19 close contacts" and will follow the NFL's mandatory five-day quarantine, making them ineligible for Sunday's game against New Orleans.

21 hours ago - Health

New York City to reopen public schools with weekly testing

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio in New York on Nov. 28. Photo: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

Some New York City schools will be allowed to reopen for in-person learning as early as Dec. 7, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday.

The state of play: De Blasio said schools will no longer be forced to shutter when the city hits a 3% COVID-19 test positivity rate, but he did not specify what the new threshold will be. The school district will mandate weekly tests for 20% of children in each school, and students will not be tested before they return.

18 hours ago - Health

Restaurants fight COVID restrictions

Diners in the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois, on Nov. 11. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Restaurants in several states — including Kentucky, Illinois and California — are staying open and defying restrictions, as states try to manage skyrocketing coronavirus cases and hospitalizations with more safety measures.

The big picture: Restaurant industry trade groups have been desperately lobbying for federal aid from a coronavirus stimulus package that has yet to see any traction in Congress.