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What New Zealand’s vaccine passport could look like. (RNZ/123rf)
What New Zealand’s vaccine passport could look like. (RNZ/123rf)

The BulletinOctober 6, 2021

The summer of the vaccine certificate

What New Zealand’s vaccine passport could look like. (RNZ/123rf)
What New Zealand’s vaccine passport could look like. (RNZ/123rf)

New Zealanders will need to show proof of vaccination to enter some venues starting in November as the government looks to boost the vaccine programme, Justin Giovannetti writes in The Bulletin.

Showing proof of vaccination is going to be a regular feature of life. The prime minister unveiled plans yesterday for a vaccine certificate, or a passport, that will be mandatory to attend large events starting next month. Accessing other businesses, like restaurants and bars, could also require showing proof of vaccination. While the list of where the certificates will be required is yet to be drawn up, Jacinda Ardern said supermarkets, dairies and health centres won’t be included. Businesses told RNZ that they are eager for clarity.

Following Monday’s unveiling of new freedoms for Auckland under level three, yesterday’s reveal of a vaccine certificate is the government’s stick to get people vaccinated as the immunisation programme has stalled. This is your warning from the government: if you want to attend a large event this summer like a music festival, you need to be getting vaccinated now.

How will the vaccine certificates work? The centrepiece of the system will be My Covid Record, a new website that’s already available in the test phase. It should be fully operational next month and will also include Covid-19 test results. Vaccination records will be kept on the government’s central database and linked to people through their NHI numbers. New Zealanders will be able to download a certificate with a QR code showing their vaccinated status. Those certificates can be kept on phones or carried around in printed form. An app will be available from early next year and it’ll be distinct from the existing Covid Tracer app because of privacy demands from Google and Apple.

There’s now a fast-approaching deadline to get vaccinated. As Stuff reports, time is running out for people who want to enjoy large events this summer. “To be fully vaccinated and fully protected and do the things you love, you need to be vaccinated this month, not in December,” the prime minister said yesterday. Someone receiving a first dose now, and waiting six weeks between doses, won’t be fully immunised before December. According to The Spinoff’s Covid tracker, 79% of the eligible population has now had a first dose and 2% more have booked. However, the number of first doses administered has fallen to around 12,000 a day in recent weeks, a quarter of the vaccination rate of a month ago. Officials have said numbers need to increase to surpass the country’s 90% target.

Vaccine certificates are becoming ubiquitous around the world. Although most countries now require proof of vaccination to travel, many are also requiring domestic use of vaccine certificates. Most of the European Union, a number of American states and most Canadian provinces require people to show similar QR codes on their phones to enter a number of venues. They aren’t without criticism, according to The Conversation, largely based on weighing concerns about freedom of movement with public health needs. England backtracked on domestic certificate use last month following a split in the ruling Conservative party.

According to Andrew Chen, a research fellow at the University of Auckland, the government’s system has learned from experience overseas and is reasonably well designed on the technical side. However, a number of thorny questions have yet to be answered on how the certificates will be used, especially once people vaccinated overseas are added to the system. “It is only under extraordinary circumstances with the current public health crisis that we can justify the use of certificates in this way. However, they can mitigate some of the risk associated with opening up and allow more people to be within infection range to each other,” he said.

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