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How to build an equitable vaccine passport that respects people’s privacy

One of President Joe Biden’s executive orders aimed at curbing the pandemic asks government agencies to “assess the feasibility” of linking coronavirus vaccine certificates with other vaccination documents and producing digital versions of them. A vaccine passport, an official document that shows your vaccination status, may soon be required to work or travel. Airlines, industry groups, nonprofits, and technology companies are building a version of this idea that you can display on your mobile phone as an app or part of your digital wallet.

Fully reopening the economy requires that we quickly build and administer a protected and equitable digital vaccine passport system. Yet, there are two significant challenges to its success: trust and the digital divide.

The American public does not trust our institutions and government with our private data, including information needed for a digital vaccine passport. And for good reason—we can’t protect what we can’t control. According to a recent Pew Research Study, more than 6 in 10 U.S. adults don’t think it’s possible to go through daily life without having data collected about them. We’ve seen the devastating effects of this lack of trust throughout the pandemic response: widespread public rejection of digital contact tracing systems and now, new concerns over vaccine passports.

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