Biometrics could help identify those with antibodies and needing vaccines as coronavirus lockdowns lift

Biometrics could help identify those with antibodies and needing vaccines as coronavirus lockdowns lift

Biometric identification could provide an invaluable tool for countries lifting coronavirus lockdowns, and in ensuring an eventual vaccine reaches vulnerable people, experts have told Reuters.

Authorities in Britain have announced they will begin antibody testing to identify individuals who are now immune to the virus due to recover from prior infection, allowing them to resume work or travel.

A representative of non-profit iRespond, which reached its official launch last month, says biometric ID systems can help keep track of those individuals, as well as those who have been vaccinated, once a vaccine is developed and released.

“We can biometrically identify the individual and tie them to the test results, as well as to a high security document. The person then has ‘non-refutable’ proof that they have immunity due to antibodies in their system,” iRespond Southeast Asia Head Larry Dohrs told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “It would be a very valuable credential.”

iRespond already provides biometric digital ID to refugees and stateless people to enable healthcare and other services. The organization’s VP of Engineering Ed Eykholt discussed the use of self-sovereign identity (SSI) with biometrics to protect the privacy of individuals, while still providing strong proof of who they are, with Biometric Update at Internet Identity Workshop XXIX in October.

Center for Global Development Senior Fellow Prashant Yadav notes that with more than 1 billion people in the world not having a means of proving their identity, according to World Bank figures, it will be a massive challenge for governments to determine who has received the vaccine.

“The initial COVID-19 vaccine supply will be limited, so it will be essential to verify each dose reaches a real patient. Corruption, leakage, and even accidental duplication waste precious supply and are deadly,” he said.

“Biometric digital IDs can be a gamechanger. They can help governments target population segments e.g. healthcare professionals or elderly population, verify people who have received vaccination, and have a clear record.”

Simprints CEO Toby Norman tells Reuters that most systems are based on fingerprints, though his company, which is also a non-profit, is now developing a touchless system with face or palm scans. Concerns about abuse of biometric and other identity data by governments and private companies require certainty about what data is used for, for how long, and when it will be deleted, according to Norman.

Simprints is also a partner in a collaboration involving vaccine alliance Gavi and NEC, aiming to deploy scalable fingerprint identification for children. A pair of executives from the company also discussed the challenges of identifying the billion people without legal identity, many of whom are children, in a deep dive into the subject last year.

“National governments don’t have a very good record of giving up new powers once a crisis has passed,” Norman notes. “Technology we use for disease surveillance today should not become tools for state surveillance at a later date.”

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