WHO making moves on international vaccine ‘passport’

Politico – by Daniel Payne

BUILDING A ‘TRUST FRAMEWORK’ — The World Health Organization will convene member states and leaders of Covid-19 immunization credential technology groups to recognize different vaccine certificates across nations and regions, a top Vaccination Credential Initiative official told POLITICO’s Ben Leonard.

The WHO is bringing together the groups to develop a “trust framework” that would allow countries to verify whether vaccine credentials are legitimate, said Brian Anderson, chief digital health physician at MITRE and a co-founder of the VCI.

Why it matters: The effort would aid international travel by allowing proof of vaccination to be more easily shared and verified, Anderson said. Many countries and regions have different standards for proof of inoculation, creating confusion for travelers and officials.

“It’s piecemeal, not coordinated and done nation to nation,” Anderson said. “It can be a real challenge.”

The WHO would say only that news on the topic should be coming “soon.”

The VCI is behind SMART Health Cards, which have become the de facto standard for digital vaccine credentials in the U.S., with dozens of states developing or adopting the technology. The group will participate in the initiative.

It’s unclear whether the U.S. would participate. The White House and the Departments of State and HHS didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Background: The move would be the most significant coordinated international push to enable interoperable credentials among nations and regions.

Existing standards include a digital Covid certificate for European Union member nations. The U.S. has no official standard despite SMART Health Cards’ dominance.

Advocates have touted the vaccine credentials, commonly known as passports, as a way to facilitate travel and reopening efforts. Many red-leaning states have opposed the technology, but that hesitancy appears to be softening as several of those states have adopted the technology.

No U.S. database: The Biden administration has said it wouldn’t issue digital credentials and hasn’t rolled out standards for vaccine credentials it said it would issue. Complicating the situation is that the U.S. doesn’t have a national inoculation database.

The CDC- and HHS-stamped Covid-19 paper vaccination cards are relatively easy to forge, which has raised concerns about fraud.

PANDEMIC TREATY TALKS UNDERWAY — GENEVA – Loyce Pace, the assistant secretary for global affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, is in Geneva meeting with WHO and other global health leaders about a potential treaty to help lay the framework for an international response to the next pandemic, POLITICO’s Erin Banco writes. It’s Pace’s first trip to this city as assistant secretary.

Backdoor talks: The U.S. has been involved in backdoor discussions with the WHO on the treaty and how to strengthen the organization. A focus of the Biden administration’s combating Covid-19 and preparing for the next pandemic: Equity.

“It’s clear to us that an important question that needs to be addressed through any instrument is the question of equity. How that happens, the approach we take … is something that we need to discuss with member states starting tomorrow,” Pace said in a briefing with reporters Wednesday. She added that the equity conversation, while important, is unlikely to come up in any significant way until the procedural and process discussions around the formation of a body to oversee the drafting of the convention take place.

“We are just as anxious as anyone to really start to build that out,” she said.

Mind the details: Pace offered few details about U.S. treaty or amendment proposals to the International Health Regulations that govern WHO (another topic under discussion alongside the pandemic treaty talks).

But during Pace’s trip, POLITICO’s Ashleigh Furlong broke the news that, in January, the U.S. sent the WHO an outline of a series of amendments it’s proposing for the IHRs. Those amendments would require swift action by countries and the WHO during an emergency and give the WHO greater powers to act during a crisis, Furlong reports. The U.S. will hold negotiations with member states on the amendments with the intention of reaching a consensus by May.

‘There for a reason’: Of the IHR amendments, Pace said: “We know that we can make improvements to those systems and mechanisms. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have found ourselves in the position we have been with Covid-19. But the reality is the IHRs are there for a reason. And there are tweaks or other improvements we could make to those existing mechanisms, alongside looking towards something longer term like an international instrument, which will also still be critically important to closing gaps or solving some outstanding problems.”

PRIVATE SECTOR WANTS  MORE INPUT — The Global Business Coalition sent a letter to the WHO requesting more of a say in the agency’s decisions.

The business coalition — which includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, BusinessEurope, the Confederation of Indian Industry and others across six continents — argues that the private sector has been a key part of controlling Covid-19 and needs to be further engaged by the WHO.

“The current pandemic represents a paradigm shift in the way governments, business, and civil society forge deep bonds to respond to emergency situations and to develop sustainable health policies,” the coalition writes.

The WHO did not immediately respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.


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