How the IATA Travel Pass will help eliminate vaccine certificate fraud

With vaccinations and the status of COVID testing being on paper in many countries, the potential for fraud and counterfeiting is high. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) says its Travel Pass could “anything but eliminate” this problem by providing verified and secure proof of status linked to our digital identity. But without the global recognition of a standard like the Travel Pass, the successful resumption of large-scale travel remains in jeopardy.

With vaccines widely regarded as a precursor to the journey, how will we prove that we are vaccinated? Photo: Getty Images

Fraud on a scale never seen before

Whenever a rule is established, there is a small sector of society that will attempt to break that rule. In terms of certification, false and fraudulent documents can be very difficult to identify and eliminate. As the world rapidly rolls out its COVID vaccinations and vaccination is seen as a precursor to a widespread resumption of travel, there is the potential for fraud on a scale never seen before.

Speaking at an IATA briefing, Senior Vice President of Airport, Passengers, Cargo and Security (APCS) Nick Careen described the scale of the problem the world could face. soon to be faced with fraudulent COVID status for travel. He said,

“Fraud has been a problem; it has been a problem for decades. A recent and obvious example would be yellow fever and the way it’s handled and the issues we’ve had with it. Try to extrapolate that to the whole planet and you can see what kind of problem we’re going to have pretty quickly.

Regular outbreaks of fake yellow fever vaccine certificates have already caused concern to public health authorities. COVID is a whole new ball game. The penetration of the novel coronavirus around the world has been so extensive that it leaves the door open for much more widespread fraud and the emergence of fake certificates.

COVID vaccination certificate fraud
As more of the world receives their COVID vaccination, proof of status is a critical issue to be addressed. Photo: Getty Images

Indeed, during the pandemic, we have already seen cases of fake COVID test certificates appearing around the world. Europol, the European Union’s police agency, said in late January that false negative certificates had been found for sale at airports and train stations in France, the UK and Spain. Fake vaccination certificates are a logical next step.

In fact, The Times of Israel reports that the country’s so-called “Green Pass”, which proves that a person has been vaccinated against or cured of COVID-19, is ridiculously easy to tamper with. This is a problem that many other countries will face in the weeks and months to come.

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Paper verification will not work in the long run

While IATA promotes its own Travel Pass app, the organization recognizes that this is just one of the many solutions available. At no time did the Association claim that its own solution was better or preferable to others available. However, the only thing that is clear is that processing COVID status in a paper format is not a good strategy.

“Countries need to ensure that their citizens receive digital COVID-19 vaccination certificates when they are vaccinated, so that they have a verifiable digital document. Currently, the majority of countries provide paper certificates, which are more susceptible to fraud.

“Manual paper processing just doesn’t work in a restart environment. It will be completely unsustainable, unacceptable and many more ‘no’s’ in terms of words that can describe why it has to be digital. “

COVID vaccination certificate fraud
With many countries relying on paper-based vaccine certification, the potential for fraud is high. Photo: Getty Images

It’s easy to see Careen’s point here. There are already a large number of variations in proof of vaccination and testing status around the world, so it is impossible to verify that the credentials are real. Any normal registrar would have an impossible task to recognize and validate all the different methods involved. A unified and digitized approach is crucial for a successful restart, explained Careen,

“There must be global standards for securely recording digital evidence of vaccination, and… mutual recognition and acceptance of COVID-19 certifications when people travel around the world. The World Health Organization, ICAO and the OECD have been working on these standards, but every day without them means the challenge gets bigger.

“This process must be accelerated.

With every day that goes by without a standardized vaccination certificate, more and more people receive their first or second dose of the vaccine. The latest update from the World Health Organization shows that more than three million doses have been administered to date. All of those millions of people already vaccinated will need to have standardized evidence applied retrospectively, which will increase headaches for organizations like IATA.

COVID vaccination certificate fraud
Over three million doses have already been administered. Source: World in Data

The Travel Pass is a solution that could eliminate fraud

The beauty of the Travel Pass lies in its ability to link with registered laboratories for the issuance of vaccination tests and certificates. The results of any COVID test or proof of vaccination would live in the app and be linked to people’s unique digital identity. It’s a well-thought-out solution to a problem that most governments have yet to fully embrace. Careen said,

“In terms of overall fraud, the verification process that we are promoting, in terms of the use of the travel pass, will virtually eliminate this problem. This is something that consumers want, but governments want too, in terms of trust in the system… We need a digital element as an important part of reducing fraud.

Etihad Airways launches the IATA Travel Pass
The Travel Pass is a solution that could prevent fake certificates from becoming a problem. Photo: Etihad

IATA’s message is clear – whether it’s the Travel Pass or something else, governments around the world must lock in an answer to the question of vaccine testing and proof as soon as possible. With some countries already planning to open borders to vaccinated travelers this summer, a global standard cannot come soon enough.


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