Fairfax Tech Talk Column

Fairfax Tech Talk Column

11.12.2020 Digital Vaccine Passport anyone? - Tech Talk Column 228


I was very excited this week. Back in the old days (pre-pandemic) I used to visit six different aged care facilities on a monthly basis and perform poetry and talk to the residents about technology. COVID-19 put a stop to that but with the easing of restrictions this week, I was allowed to start visiting residents again.

The only requirement the facilities asked for was proof of my flu vaccination for this year.

I had a few options. I could look through my paper records to try and find the original paperwork; I could visit the pharmacy and ask for them to reproduce my paperwork or I could look on my Medicare records to see if the immunisation history was there.

I remember when our children were born. We were presented with our ‘Personal Health Record’ booklet, colloquially known by everyone as the ‘Blue Book.’ If you went to visit the doctor or to day care, you had to have the Blue Book with you that contained all of the records of immunisation and other health information. Heaven help the parent who lost their Blue Book. House on fire? Grab the kids, the Blue Book and the family photos – in that order!

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has accelerated the technological advancement across the world by more than three years. We have had the technology for many years to keep all of our health information and records electronically but it may not be the health authorities that finally drive the change. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) represents 290 airlines worldwide. They are developing an IATA Travel Pass as a way for travellers to show COVID-19 vaccinations and test results. They may well make use of such a travel pass compulsory before flying internationally.

A Digital Vaccine Passport (DVP) makes a lot of sense. However, I would prefer my government to be in charge of it rather than an airline association. Most of the information is already there for a government to use. NSW has the Service NSW app which already has our Driver Licence and Working with Children Check details in it. Adding immunisation records would not be a major undertaking – although a national approach rather than a State based approach makes more sense. The largely unsuccessful COVIDSafe app is already run by the Australian Government and once again could be easily adapted to provide the required information. The logical process though would be to use the Medicare app. Basic immunisation information is already contained within our Medicare records and the app already exists. Adding COVID-19 information would seem like a logical step forward. Then the Australian Government could work with IATA and other international organisations to have the information in the Medicare app recognised by those organisations – making it much simpler for users.

There are valid concerns from privacy advocates and these have to be weighed up against the ability for society to return to something like normal. There is no doubt that the collection and storage of this information would need to be carefully scrutinised to ensure it wasn’t misused.

The larger issue may relate to access to day-to-day services if authorities decided that only people with a DVP could enter certain locations such as churches, cafes’ and malls. The entire process also has the possibility of exclusion for people who don’t have a smartphone. We are already seeing that with compulsory QR Codes for entry to hospitality locations in NSW but this might go a step further.

Tell me if you would be comfortable with your vaccination history on a Digital Vaccine Passport at ask@techtalk.digital.

Mathew Dickerson