Why proof of vaccination and virus tests are too easy to fake

The world will need standardized international proof of vaccination and testing before travel can soar

fake vaccination recordsThe world will need proof of vaccination records. The proposed new digital vaccine passports have obvious privacy problems. We’re hurtling toward a summer travel season where people may routinely lie about their vaccine status or COVID-19 test results. It’s all the more reason to get your shots ASAP.

Here’s the evidence of what I am calling a coming Vaxageddon

Exhibit A: The COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. You’ll get one when you receive your first shot.

I can print this out and add an official-looking stamp, a squiggly signature, and a date. Voila! — I’m certified, even if I never had a COVID-19 vaccine.

The International Certificate of Vaccination is not secure 

fake vaccination records

WHO: International Certificate of Vaccination

Exhibit B: This is the Yellow Card, used to document your other vaccines when you travel. I have my hepatitis A and typhoid shots recorded in one of these.

If I wanted to, I could add a COVID-19 “record” and an official-looking signature to my Yellow Card, and I’d be good to go.

• Sanitizing your hotel room for germs and viruses
• Will COVID testing make airline and cruise travel safer?

Counterfeit COVID test certificates are already being sold

And finally, Exhibit C: Late last year, French authorities busted an operation that sold fake COVID-19 tests to travelers. The counterfeit certificates were being offered to air travelers leaving Paris.

The six men and one woman were found to have more than 200 counterfeit certificates on their mobile phones.

The fakes would have been sold for up to €300 (£271) each, prosecutors say.

The arrests came after the certificate of a passenger bound for Ethiopia was found to be false.

The fake certificates bore the names of real Parisian medical laboratories.

Put it all together and what do you have? None of the COVID-19 vaccine certifications are secure, and COVID tests can — and maybe are — being faked. We need an international proof of vaccination,

I’m calling it Vaxageddon.

Get refunds in cash when airlines cancel your flightA proof of vaccination record is a huge IT and privacy challenge

The Harvard Business Review has also chimed in on the difficulty of documenting vaccinations and testings for the virus. The hard truth is that the US data system is not designed to handle this job. Health systems, pharmacies, and public health leaders need to realize that our current non-integrated systems cannot provide the information needed. The Review outlines four broad actions to improve the data infrastructure. These must be taken to ensure that the vaccination effort is effective and equitable, protects privacy, and thwarts wrongdoing. Read the complete article to learn about the real problems in developing an international vaccination passport. [This has been modified for ease of reading and condensation of information.]

1. Standardize how personal health data is exchanged.

Personal health information, including vaccination records with personal identifiers, is difficult for the U.S. government to access and to manage. Federal and state privacy rules or laws limit actions. The U.S. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the California Consumer Privacy Act limits sharing information. In some cases it is impossible to share data.

2. Align states’ immunization registries and state, federal, and international reporting analytics.

The United States has a fragmented system to track vaccine administration. States’ immunization information systems play an important role in vaccine verification. Centralized registries that have the capacity to electronically exchange data with clinical systems, including electronic medical records, do not exist.  … only 60% of American adults are registered on immunization information systems.

3. We need immunization “passports” that are portable internationally, equitable, and protect privacy.

For a vaccination passport to work, we need for a private and portable form of identification. Above, we show current immunization certificates for diseases such as polio and yellow fever to prevent their spread. At the most basic level, an immunity passport would be a digitized version of the “yellow card.” This paper-based International Certificate of Vaccination is carried by many international travelers when traveling to and from high-risk areas of the world.

They must ensure privacy and provide portability of status. In addition, the data infrastructure supporting such digital passports can track each vaccine vial and its delivery to a unique individual. The passports would also need to be portable both within and across borders through a set of common global standards and linked to passport information for cross-border use.

4. Address privacy, portability, and cybersecurity tradeoffs.

Medical identity theft is one potential problem that could impact a COVID-19 vaccine identity or registry. For example, there is a danger that people will use stolen or fake identities. Systems will face spoofed or fake records that show an individual has received the vaccine when he or she, in fact, has not (i.e., a fake vaccine certificate). Given such scenarios, it makes sense to consider using existing digital health platforms; examples of what we have in mind include the Commons Project, Dimagi, Simprints, PathCheck Foundation, Onfido, and Yoti.

This problem of fake vaccination records will take time to be resolved. In the meantime, the world will need an alternative system for identifying those who are vaccinated and those who have been tested.