After more than a year under pandemic restrictions, we’re all eager to return to socializing—so eager, that some have even figured out how to cheat their way into locations and events that require vaccination. In Israel, a black market has emerged for counterfeit Covid “vaccine passports." For less than $250, you can buy your way into gyms, swimming pools, theaters, and hotels restricted to “Green Pass” holders. This system was rolled out in February as a vaccination incentive, but the associated QR codes were found to be easily forged. The paper-based CDC vaccination cards used in the US are even easier to forge and are available for under $10. For a bit more, some sellers will even laminate it for you.
Vaccine passports are a potential, though controversial, means to safely reopen our economies and resume public events and travel. The problem is, on a global scale, we can’t seem to agree whether they should exist or how to roll them out. Last month, China made a surprising move, announcing it would resume processing foreign visas for travel into the country but would prioritize applicants that received one of its domestically-produced vaccines. Only about a quarter of the world’s countries have approved one of China’s vaccines, further complicating plans for expats who have been stranded outside of the country since the pandemic.
There are multiple vaccine passport solutions, creating a fragmented web of competing credentialing systems. A single global standard has not yet emerged and concerns about interoperability are rising. Regardless of the solution, the idea of proving immunity status will continue to raise questions around trust, security, and equity. For example, will countries that don’t have access to enough vaccines be locked out of global travel? Requiring people to present health data for entry has the potential to result in a system that denies certain groups access to public events, services, employment, and even movement within their own country.
3 Things You Should Know
Vaccine passports are sparking backlash. In the UK, a plan to trial “COVID Status Certificates'' was met with fierce opposition. In the US, the states of Texas and Florida have issued executive orders prohibiting certain agencies or organizations from requiring proof of vaccination, and the White House has backed away from a federal program for domestic purposes.
Interoperability is an issue. China released its vaccine credential system via the WeChat app, but the system has been recognized by only a few countries so far. Europe announced that its “Digital Green Certificate” will be interoperable, but only for those member states that opt in (the system is only focusing on movement within the EU for now). There are several organizations attempting to address the issue of shared standards; Good Health Pass Collaborative is working with its cross-sector members to create a blueprint for a fully interoperable global system.
Mental Block Pessimistic, 2026
The Covid pandemic may have been the catalyst for countries to establish health passports, but over time, the systems morphed to verify broader aspects of a traveler’s health status. “Sanity passports” emerged, driven by AI scoring of personality and mental health markers. Escalating domestic incidents, stemming from increased polarization and loosened gun controls, led the US to be the first country to initiate this new criteria. Under a veil of national security, the government and its contractors blocked release of any information about the data or algorithms being used. People who had visited the country just a few months before were suddenly refused entry with no way to find out why or appeal the decision. Whole countries seemed to be blocked from visiting the US, and even US citizens began to fear that if they left, they might not be allowed to return.
🐇 Rabbit Hole
If you want to take a deeper dive into vaccine passports, I recommend the following sources:
Good Health Pass Collaborative’s white paper outlines principles for a “good health pass”
Business Traveller’s round-up of Covid vaccine passport programs
Further down the rabbit hole: Download the Policy + Government volumeof our 2021 Tech Trends Report for more on vaccine passports and related trends.
📡 Signals I'm Tracking This Week
Samsung’s Galaxy Quantum 2 smartphone launched for pre-orders last week in South Korea. Developed with SK Telecom and powered by ID Quantique’s Quantum Random Number Generator (QRNG) chipset, it allows developers to integrate quantum cryptography capabilities into their apps. Keep an eye out for new use cases and services that emerge when quantum cryptography is in the palm of your hand.
We recently learned that adult zebrafish express a gene after cardiac injury that enables regeneration of cardiac muscle cells. Given that zebrafish and humans share 70% of the same genes, researchers want to explore if this same regeneration is possible in humans after heart attacks. Could this mean we will see biohacking marketplaces emerge in the future selling kits to inject cool genetic traits from other species into our own DNA blueprint?
A blue pigment found in cabbage may provide a natural alternative to synthetic food dyes. While this blue anthocyanin is found naturally in cabbage only in trace amounts, researchers at UC Davis recently identified an enzyme that can convert more abundant anthocyanins into this blue compound. It is still being tested, but the enzymatic conversion appears promising, and blue anthocyanins may one day replace FD&C Blue No. 1 in our favorite candies. With synthetic biology as an enabler, what new possibilities might this also create for natural blue hues in sustainable apparel?
This week's newsletter was researched and written by