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NPR’s Steve Inskeep talks with Paul Meyer, CEO of Project Commons, about his organization’s work on digital vaccine passports and how vaccine passports would work as a concept.



STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now that millions of people have been vaccinated and millions more have not, should you be required to show a vaccination passport? This is a familiar term for a document indicating that you have taken your COVID photographs. The UK is piloting such a system, though the government avoids the phrase vaccine passport. Defenders of civil liberties, including some in the United States, raised concerns about discrimination. Dr. Anthony Fauci told Politico that the federal government is unlikely to require these passports.

(Audio word of archived recordings)

ANTONI FAUCI: You can predict how an independent entity might say, well, we can not deal with you if we do not know you have been vaccinated but will not be mandated by the federal government.

INSKEEP: The non-profit organization Commons Project Foundation tried to develop a passport form. And Paul Meyer, CEO of that organization, joins us. Good morning.

PAUL MEYER: Good morning

INSKEEP: I just want to note, when I travel overseas now, it has this yellow sheet of paper with my vaccines, other vaccines that another country might ask me to show at the passport control. Will a vaccine passport work like this?

MEYER: Yes, exactly and certainly precedent for that. But now, most countries in the world have testing requirements. So this is currently in use. For example, now, you can use CommonPass to fly to Aruba and meet Aruba testing requirements. So it is happening now for testing, and of course vaccination requirements certainly seem to be arriving, at least with international travel.

INSKEEP: And then your idea, I guess, is a phone app with one of those QR codes. So you just scan it in the passport control and everyone would have the same system. Is it your notion?

Meyer: Yes, it is not an idea. It’s working today. So on all flights, for example, to Lufthansa from Germany to the US, people are using CommonPass. People are using it to fly to Aruba, soon to fly to Hawaii. So people use CommonPass to connect to a lab or soon to get their vaccination records. They have their information on the phone, and can then use that information to show that they meet the requirements of their destination, without having to submit the information themselves. So it serves to protect the privacy of your data.

INSKEEP: Oh, so you’re really saying that – it gives a little more privacy than the opposite.

Meyer: Well, exactly. We do not think you have to submit your health information to an airline just to get a flight. But we think it exists, you know – and of course some countries have set the requirements you need to prove that you have either been tested or vaccinated. So we’re trying to let you do that, but do it in a way that protects your privacy.

INSKEEP: Okay, we’re talking about international travel here, which is a pretty simple case because you are already required in many cases to show your vaccines. There is already a system. It is already a thing we do. Does it get more complicated, though, if we talk about home use, requiring someone to show it on a U.S. domestic flight or enter a movie theater or some other big event?

MEYER: Well, I think there is a precedent. I mean, most schools in the country require parents to produce immunization records for their children every September. Most summer camps do this too, so, you know – and some school districts. I think Los Angeles already announced that they would be looking for vaccination certificates, vaccination proofs to go back to school. So this is the same as the International Yellow Card trip, something that has been done with other vaccines before. And I think we expect that, you know, some employers, some schools, some businesses will make that decision. But ultimately, this is a decision that communities and institutions will make for themselves.

INSKEEP: But let me give you a chance to respond to the rather hot language on this on social media or right-wing television. And you can understand where people come from. They have some fear of the kind of state your newspapers show. Is there a point at which this will become intrusive?

MEYER: Well, I think the other way of thinking is that there are a lot of things that people are eager to come back to. And being able to demonstrate them and the people they will really be with have either been tested or vaccinated is an important thing in a way to give people the freedom to get back to normal life.

INSKEEP: Well, Mr. Meyer, thank you very much, we really appreciate your time.

Meyer: Thank you

INSKEEP: Paul Meyer is the CEO of The Commons Project, who developed an application that is a kind of vaccine passport.

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