Vaccinated? Show Us Your App

In the U.S., for instance, the federal government plans to give out personal record cards to people receiving coronavirus vaccinations to remind them of their medical provider, vaccine manufacturer, batch number and date of inoculation. But federal health agencies have not yet issued guidance on third-party digital vaccination credentials, leaving it open for companies and nonprofits to introduce Covid-19 health pass apps. Neither the Department of Health and Human Services nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention responded to requests for comment.

Nonprofits and tech companies developing Covid-19 health pass apps say their aim is to create credentials as trustworthy as the W.H.O.’s paper yellow card. And they argue that the smartphone apps — which people may use to retrieve their virus test results and immunizations directly from their heath providers — are more reliable than paper health documents, which may be forged.

“To restart the economy, to save certain industries, I think you need a solution like this,” said Eric Piscini, a vice president at IBM who oversaw the development of the company’s new health passport app. IBM recently completed a pilot test of the app, called Digital Health Pass, with an employer, he said, and is in discussions with a major sports stadium. Without such apps, Mr. Piscini said, “people will limit their engagement in travel and entertainment because of lack of confidence.”

Clear, a security company that uses biometric technology to confirm people’s identities at airports and elsewhere, is already operating a Covid app. Called Health Pass, the app has been adopted by some professional sports teams and insurers, where employees may use it to confirm their coronavirus test results. Once vaccines become available, the company said, the app will be able to check users’ immunizations as well.

But no Covid-19 health pass has received as much fanfare as the CommonPass app, developed by the Commons Project, a nonprofit focused on building technology for public use. The group began developing software to help people retrieve and use their medical data well before the start of the pandemic. But spikes in virus cases around the world this spring accelerated its work.

First, the group helped build a health pass app for some East African nations that aims to verify truck drivers with negative coronavirus test results, enabling them to pick up food shipments at ports and deliver them across borders to landlocked countries. A few months later, the group partnered with the World Economic Forum to build a more global digital health pass system for Covid-19. Their first target: international air travel.