With COVID-19 vaccines now rolling out in Australia – 164,000 plus jabs and counting – the Australian Government appears to be working slowly towards a digital COVID-19 vaccine certificate, but airlines are getting there faster, writes Graeme Kemlo.

The idea of a digital “vaccine passport” to verify travellers have been vaccinated against COVID-19 has been floating around for some months now and is likely to be a required step to restarting international travel and visitation to Australia, including for business events.

Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) Chair, Dr Vanessa Findlay, told micenet recently she had been briefed on a digital pass. However, currently the Federal Government advises that to access evidence of immunisation you need to download a PDF from Medicare or the MyGov portal.

I accessed my Immunisation History Statement – a simple PDF that includes a disclaimer that “every effort is made to ensure that the information contained on the Australian Immunisation Register is correct”.  Given that government agencies and their logos, including the likes of the ATO, are regularly mimicked in scam emails, it is not difficult to imagine an insecure PDF could be tampered with.

There is global competition to produce a smartphone version of the health certificate: one is the Travel Pass from the International Air Transport Association (IATA); the other is CommonPass, a collaborative effort from the World Economic Forum and a broad coalition of public and private partners.

CommonPass is described as a globally interoperable platform for people to document their COVID-19 status, from health declarations to PCR tests and vaccinations, to satisfy individual country entry requirements, while protecting their health data privacy. Qantas used CommonPass for the first time last Friday, on a repatriation flight of Australian residents returning from Germany to quarantine in Darwin. The airline says it is also assessing the IATA Travel Pass.

IATA’s Travel Pass comprises four modules: entry requirement registry, test centre registry, certification holder, and digital identity. Air New Zealand has announced it will begin to use this system to fast track access to health information, including COVID-19 status, for the one-way travel bubble between Auckland and Sydney from April.

It is expected other forms of international transport – cruise ships and international rail systems may also adopt a digital certificate that not only enables the carrier to identify the passenger well in advance of travel, but would also show the result of a COVID test that some countries currently require within 48-72 hours of departure and/or arrival.