Could cross-border travel be restored sooner, with interoperable vaccination certificate accepted by neighboring countries?

Cross-border travel across the Causeway between Singapore and Malaysia maybe restored sooner rather than later. (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)

Singapore, Malaysia vaccination certificate will ensure traceability on the blockchain

The issue of a vaccination certificate had been a sticky topic globally, raising many questions but also potentially paving the way towards opening borders and enabling a degree of travel between neighboring territories.

With countries in the Southeast Asian region currently undergoing their vaccination processes, there has been some talk of creating a shared digital certificate that proclaims the bearer’s vaccination status. Taking the first step towards a recognized system is Malaysia and Singapore, with governments on both sides saying they will mutually recognize each other’s vaccine certificate, most likely viewable on a smartphone, in the first steps towards allowing travel between both countries for the first time in over a year.

Traditionally, immunizations are tracked through written records or even patient’s electronic medical records. However, the global scale of the pandemic requires a different system. It needs to be more easily accessible and portable, in order for people to use them to access schools, offices, and event venues.

Reports also suggest that those digital records need to be “interoperable”, meaning all organizations administering the shots should use the same model for recording vaccine credentials. Most importantly, the vaccination record also needs to be verifiable and secure to avoid fakes.

Malaysia’ Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Khairy Jamaluddin revealed in his latest Facebook post that after meeting with Singapore’s Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, the vaccination certificates from both sides of the Causeway will be secured using blockchain technology to provide verifiable traceability, right down to the exact vaccine vial used for the inoculation. And yes, by hosting the digital records on the blockchain, both countries can allow for an interoperable, securely accessible record of immunization status.

“The interoperability between the digital certification systems used in both countries will be crucial especially when taking into account standards set by World Health Organization (WHO), International Air Transport Association (IATA), and other countries,” said the minister.

The security and interoperable functionality of the distributed ledger technology that underlies blockchain systems is being harnessed more and more to securely trace supply chain records and provide real-time visibility to the necessary participants of the chain.

Blockchain was a natural option to consider for tracing vaccination distribution itself, given the global scale and the specific conditions for storing vaccine shots, which the technology was well capable of, and its immutable record capability allows for trusty vaccine certificate record-keeping as well.

Besides Malaysia, Singapore’s Dr Balakrishnan will also be visiting Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia, suggesting that plans for a unified or mutually-accepted vaccine credential throughout Southeast Asia in not out of the question.