As countries continue to lift lockdowns on coronavirus, biometric identification may help validate people that have already had the infection and ensure that the priority for the vaccine can be placed for the most vulnerable patients as soon as the vaccine is being launched, health and technology experts said.
Confirmed cases of COVID-19, the coronavirus-induced respiratory disease, exceed more than 1.4 million, with about 82,000 deaths worldwide, according to a Reuters report.
On Wednesday, China lifted a two-month lockdown in Wuhan’s epicentre and authorities in Britain and elsewhere said they would initiate antibody tests to see whether people had become infected, to allow them to return to work or travel.
Larry Dohrs, head of Southeast Asia at iRespond, a nonprofit headquartered in Seattle that launched its technology last month, said a biometric ID system will hold track of such citizens and others who get the vaccine.
“We can recognize the individual biometrically and tie them to the test results, as well as to a high-security record. The person then has ‘non-refutable’ evidence that they have immunity in their body due to antibodies,” he said.
“It’d be a really good credential,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The nonprofit also provides for refugees and stateless individuals with biometric Identification.
Countries around the world have been rapidly tracking technologies during the coronavirus outbreak, from disinfecting drones to talking robots and artificial intelligence to creating vaccinations.
Companies like iRespond and Simprints-a UK-based nonprofit that creates biometric IDs for health and humanitarian usage-are now moving their technologies to the next level.
According to the World Bank, more than 1 billion individuals globally do not have the resources to prove their identity.
This would present a huge challenge for governments seeking to figure out who got the vaccination, said Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow at the U.S .- based Global Development Centre.
“The initial supply of COVID-19 vaccines may be limited, and it would be important to ensure that each dose meets a real patient. Corruption, diversion, and even unintended duplication loses precious supply, and is deadly,” he said.
“Biometric digital IDs can be a gamechanger. They can help governments target segments of the population, e.g. health care professionals or the elderly, verify people who have been vaccinated and have clear records,” he said.
For several nations, digital identity systems are already in operation, connecting biometric data such as fingerprints and iris scans to a special digital code that allows for remote identification.
This can also be leveraged for monitoring vaccination, Yadav said, but adults would need to retool the vaccine system that is developed around children.
Many biometric devices are still focused on fingerprints, which may be a source of coronavirus spread, so Simprints is creating a “touchless” device that scans the face or the palm, said Toby Norman, chief executive.
Governments and private companies may often abuse these systems according to digital rights groups who have raised questions about the possibility of increased surveillance. To stop abuse, there must be clarity on what the data should be used for and for how long, and when it will be erased, Norman said.
“National governments do not have a particularly strong record of surrendering new powers until a crisis is over,” he added.
“Technology that we use now for disease surveillance should not become state surveillance instruments at a later date.”