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Google to bake COVID-19 vaccine passport support into Android with Passes API update

Digital vax record stored on user's smartphone

Android will soon have the ability to store and display proof of Covid-19 vaccination, Google has said.

The ad search giant has confirmed that an update to its Passes API will allow authorised public health bodies and medical organisations to create a digital vaccination record, which can then be stored on a user’s smartphone.

Google said it planned to introduce the feature in the US initially, before rolling it out to other territories. It did not offer any clarity about which countries are next in line, so it probably isn't a good idea to rip up your paper vaccination card just yet.

These records will be stored locally on the user's device, Google said. As was the case with the contact tracing API, the feature will support devices running versions of Android as old as 5.0 Lollipop. The Google Pay app, which is often used for showing tickets and boarding passes, will not be required.

So far, Apple hasn't released an equivalent feature to iOS, although this hasn't been much of a problem, with many third-party apps serving the role of a vaccine passport. In the UK, the official National Health Service app can be used to show proof of vaccination, with similar apps rolling out across the continent.

Although many bristle at the thought of vaccine passports, regarding them as inherently coercive, they look set to become an inevitable part of our post-COVID-19 life. The Irish government is considering requiring proof of vaccination to sit in doors at a pub or restaurant, a move that has been criticised by Sinn Fein as discriminatory to young people who are at the back of the queue for the jab.

Separately, vaccine passports are being eyed up by the airline industry — particularly industry body IATA — as a way to restart international tourism and business travel.

A digital system controlled by healthcare providers also goes some way to mitigating the risk of fraud. In recent months, a burgeoning industry for counterfeit vaccination certificates has emerged. The creation of a system where the records themselves are stored digitally and created by the healthcare sector would likely prove much more resilient against this, although it would not be failproof. ®

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