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It’s not entirely surprising, but Apple is officially entering the vaccine passport game with support for digital vaccination cards native to its platform.
What exactly is a vaccine passport? It’s all about the ability to prove that someone has received their COVID-19 vaccinations in a quick and easy way. Like normal passports, vaccine passports need to be shown to gain access to a variety of locations.
While this is still very much an ongoing process, we are seeing vaccine requirements appear at many private establishments from high-end restaurants to amusement parks. Cities are requiring them for access to public transportation, and airlines are requiring them for flights. Entire countries (including the United States) are requiring proof of vaccination from international travelers.
There’s just one problem – the original “proof” of vaccination was a flimsy cardboard card, which has been notably stolen, faked, and damaged. The ideal alternative would naturally be a digital system to store vaccination data in a private way and transfer it safely when necessary for easy passport use.
Many types of health records are already transmitted this way, but those systems are set up for easy public use or vaccination information. Currently, a number of digital vaccination systems are appearing on the market, but none of them have really won out as the digital passport system for North America to use. That’s why Apple has decided to speed up the process with an iOS 15.1 update that will add support for verifiable COVID-19 vaccination cards in the Apple Wallet. It will be based on the common SMART Health Cards specification and will allow the card to be safely shared with third-party platforms.
As you can see from the example, this allows users to pop open the Apple Wallet and choose their vaccination card by date, then display it along with a QR code for confirmation.
Theoretically, this will allow for quick vaccination checks at access points and save users a lot of effort. Apple has spent plenty of time working to make sure Apple Wallet’s security is sufficient and already has experience in transferring HIPAA-related records with its Health app (which appears to be working in combination with Wallet on this project) – so the company is well-positioned to take advantage of vaccine passports. It’s also guaranteed that, like one-time location access for apps, platforms will only be able to access vaccination card info once for verification.
There’s just one catch to the whole solution: organizations have to actually support these cards found in Apple Wallet. That means medical organizations, local governments, and businesses of all kinds will have to make individual determinations to support Apple Wallet or focus on other digital alternatives. It’s going to be a little while before we know how common Apple Wallet is going to be in the vaccination world – but Apple’s early support for the SMART specification could be an important factor.