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Here come coronavirus vaccine passports: What Missourians need to know

Missouri businesses and organizations strangled by the dangers of the Coronavirus will soon be able to guarantee a relatively safe return to offices and similar public spaces with digitized, highly verifiable “vaccine passports.”

These digital documents are expected to go a long way toward reassuring the people who manage public spaces — and the people who congregate there — that everyone has taken great pains to stop Coronavirus in its tracks.

Plus, the digitized proofs-of-vaccine are considered extremely convenient — since they’re generally stored on smartphones — and seen as much tougher to counterfeit than government proof-of-vaccination, which is issued on paper.

The hitch is that the emergence of these digital vaccine passports has also triggered vehement controversy across Missouri.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has come out strongly against the ‘show-me-proof-of-your-jab’ movement. He signed a law this past summer that prohibits any publicly funded service facility in Missouri from demanding a vaccine passport to enter.

“While we encourage all Missourians to get vaccinated against COVID-19, it is not the government’s job to force them,” Parson said at the signing ceremony.

It was a move was strongly supported by Missouri Sen. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville.

“Just the thought that a government or anyone could — in order to engage in commerce or to move about freely in a free nation — that you would have to show proof of and injecting yourself with a substance that you may or may not abhorrently agree with or disagree with — it’s really concerning anyone would even support such a measure. We have to step in and just say absolutely not.”

Even so, the new Missouri law only applies to publicly funded organizations. So, private businesses and organizations in Missouri are still free to say, “No vax, no entry” — or even more pointedly, “No vax, no job.”

Delta Airlines, for example, now requires new employees living in any state — including Missouri — to show proof-of-vaccination or pay an extra $200-a-month for their Delta-provided health insurance.

Many other nationwide businesses are expected to follow suit.

Fortunately, Missouri businesses and organizations that do like the idea of vaccine passports will find that a number of heavy hitters from the world of health and high tech – including the Mayo Clinic, health insurer Cigna and Microsoft, for example — have already developed digital vaccine passports.

The Mayo/Cigna/Microsoft vaccine passport technology, for example, is designed to enable workers and others to show proof of vaccination using their smartphones — which appears as a QR code that can be easily scanned with a common QR scanner.

The technology is already available at Walmart, where customers who get vaccinated against the Coronavirus at Walmart — or at Walmart’s affiliate, Sam’s Club — can also sign-up to get a QR code vaccine passport stored on their smartphone.

Walmart puts the certification together by working with a third party health app company, which agrees to store a customer’s proof of vaccination credentials and helps generate the QR code that appears on a customer’s phone.

“Our goal is to give customers vaccinated at Walmart free and secure digital access to their vaccine record and enable them to share that information with third-parties,” said John Furner, CEO and President of Walmart U.S.

Joan Harvey, president of care solutions at Evernorth, Cigna’s health services business of the system Walmart is using, said, “A secure, convenient solution to verify COVID-19 vaccination will play an important role in accelerating a healthy and safe return to work, school and life in general.”

Meanwhile, IBM is also pushing digital vaccine passports. Its spin on the technology also uses a QR code that appears on a smartphone.

IBM officially rolled-out the digital passport in February for use in New York. But the tech is easily adaptable for any state, according to Steve LaFleche, general manager, IBM Public and Federal Market.

“This solution can provide New York — and other states — a simple, secure, and voluntary method for showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or certification of vaccination,” LaFleche said.

Yet another player advancing a vaccine passport solution: MasterCard. The credit card company announced earlier this year that it’s partnering with the International Chamber of Commerce to come up with a digitized, proof-of-vaccination solution.

“Together with ICC, its member organizations and our partners in the Good Health Pass Collaborative, we can work to get the world moving again and jumpstart the global economic engine,” said Ajay Bhalla, president of cyber and intelligence at MasterCard.

Interestingly, the potentially biggest player in the vaccine passport game — the federal government — has decided to sit this one out.

Instead of getting in the business of regulating who can move freely through the country based on Coronavirus vaccination status, the federal government has decided to defer to technology and other companies to shoulder the load.

“Unlike other parts of the world, the government here is not viewing its role as the place to create a passport — nor a place to hold the data of citizens,” said Andy Slavitt, acting director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“We view this as something that the private sector is doing — and will do. What’s important to us — and we’re leading an inter-agency process right now to go through these details — are that some important criteria be met with these credentials. Number one, that there is equitable access — that means whether or not people have access to technology or whether they don’t. It’s also important that we recognize that there are still many, many millions and millions of Americans that have not yet been vaccinated. So that’s a fundamental equity issue.”

Moreover, the federal government will be seeking assurances from passport issuers that systems for Missourians and others guarantee information privacy, information security, free access to all individuals and support for multiple languages, according to Slavitt.

While at least some businesses and workers in Missouri will most likely heave a sigh of relief when Coronavirus vaccine passports start becoming commonplace, market research firm Forrester cautions that Missouri businesses face some risk requiring passports for a return to work.

Specifically, businesses endorsing vaccine passports could be subject to charges of mishandling of sensitive data, discrimination, protests from labor unions, diminished cyber security — not to mention a backlash from clients and customers who are denied access to a business without a passport.

Enza Iannopollo, a senior analyst at Forrester, is the author of the March 2021 Forrester report, “The Opportunity, The Unknowns, And The Risks Of Vaccine Passports In The Workplace.”

“Vaccine passports don’t offer the silver-bullet solution that many might hope for easing pandemic protocols and restrictions, and businesses should be planning for life with COVID in the medium to long term,” he wrote. “Our over-arching message to organizations everywhere is one of caution. With the right planning and consideration, the return to work will be smoother and more successful for all involved.”

Specific pitfalls Forrester cautions Missouri businesses and organizations to avoid include:

  • Vaccines are not a silver bullet: Variants, and efficacy of the vaccines mean Missouri employers must plan to continue anywhere-work policies and hybrid experiences to balance convenience with well-being.
  • No jab, no job requirements could get tricky: Asking employees of Missouri businesses to carry proof of inoculation with them to enter the workplace introduces privacy and ethics risks.
  • Medical data collection should be nuanced: Missouri employers should collect only the minimum amount of data needed to establish vaccination status. They should encrypt medical data and enforce strict access, sharing, and deletion policies to ensure fairness and protection.

The bottom line, according to Mike Sicilia, executive vice president of Oracle’s Global Business Units, is that when it comes to having the reassurance that the person working next to you has been vaccinated, the benefits outweigh the risks. “This process needs to be as easy as online banking,” he said.

But for Missourians like Sen. Brattin, vaccine passports are a no-sale, no matter what the spin: “This is where states to have to stand up and say ‘This is not going to happen on our watch and in our state.'”

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. Contact him at 646-233-4089 or [email protected], or online at www.dysartnewsfeatures.com.