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Opinion

QR codes in vaccination cards

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

It turns out that local governments may still require a negative RT-PCR test result for local travelers even if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This was the clarification made by the Department of Health on Wednesday amid tepid if not adverse reactions from some local governments on the announcement of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to no longer require local travelers who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to get tested.

Apparently, many local authorities fear that the policy may lead to a surge of cases in their areas. So I have a question to the LGUs, particularly those imposing strict border controls on travelers within the country; why are you so obsessed with travel bubbles?

What’s with this fixation on interzonal and intrazonal border control, yet amid an ironic laxity on testing and contact tracing? Was it the porous borders that actually caused COVID-19 cases to surge in many provinces in the country, or was it the local governments’ leniency in implementing the standard health protocols in public places?

I’m not privy to what is actually happening on the ground because I have not been traveling from one island to another. But imagine a hypothetical, if not real, scenario where Bohol requires fully-vaccinated travelers from Cebu to show a negative RT-PCR test result before they are allowed entry to the island which has double the daily count of new COVID-19 cases than Cebu as of Thursday?

In his social media post, Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvana, a member of the IATF panel of experts, explained the rationale why the IATF no longer requires swabs for pre-departure testing for fully-vaccinated asymptomatic individuals traveling within the country. He said that fully-vaccinated individuals are much less likely to contract COVID-19. “Even if they end up with breakthrough infection, the amount of virus they release is much less than that of an unvaccinated individual and there is a lower chance of transmission,” Salvana said.

“Also, testing with RT-PCR in asymptomatic persons is generally low yield and is even less fruitful in fully-vaccinated asymptomatic individuals. Strict exposure and symptom screening remain in place for incoming travelers,” he added.

Then there is this seemingly plausible but actually shoddy reasoning against allowing vaccination cards as alternatives to the testing requirements of local governments. They say that vaccine cards can be faked.

Yes, vaccine cards can be easily faked but not when there is a QR code that reveals the information behind each card. That information is difficult to fake. Why bother getting a fake vaccine card when you know that a genuine card has a QR code that goes into a verifiable database.

After I had my first vaccine dose last May, I was given a vaccine card that has a QR code. When I scanned it with my smartphone using a downloadable QR code scanner app, it led me to the official webpage of the Vaccine Information Management System of the city which shows my vaccination card information including my full name, vaccine brand, and the date of vaccination.

When I travel, I need not even present an original vaccine card to the authorities. I just need to show them a copy of my card so they can scan its QR code and cross-reference my vaccine card with the government online database. They just have to ask me to present my driver’s license or any government-issued ID to check if the name in the database registry matches with my identity as shown in my ID.

With this, will anyone still bother to get a fake vaccine card? You can get a fake card, but can you bribe government database encoders or managers to enter your name and fake vaccination details in the database registry? That can be done, but not easily. It will leave a digital trail that can be used as evidence against those responsible for faking or tampering data entries in the system.

This QR code-enabled verification system is nothing new. Cebu City already has this feature for quite some time now except for the vaccination cards that were issued during the early part of the vaccination program. That is why Councilor David Tumulak of the Vaccine Advisory Board recently announced that they will be issuing QR codes for those unmarked cards.

In fact, what we should also have is a national vaccination database. That will prepare us for when most of the world will open to travelers.

COVID-19
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