How does Australia’s new digital vaccination certificate work?

Paul Hayes

14/06/2021 8:25:55 PM

People who have received both doses of AstraZeneca or Pfizer can now access digital proof that they are fully vaccinated against COVID.

Vaccination hub sign
More than 600,000 Australians having received two doses of vaccine. (Image: AAP)

It seems even a COVID outbreak can have a silver lining, with Melbourne’s fourth lockdown acting as a key motivator in people around Australia getting vaccinated.
According to the ABC vaccine tracker, Victoria’s daily vaccinations have more than tripled – with nearly 25,000 doses a day being administered at state-run clinics, hospitals and vaccination hubs – since the state went back into lockdown on 27 May.
Daily vaccinations in New South Wales have seen similar jump, from roughly 3500 on 10 May to 11,500 on 6 June.
Overall, Australia has now delivered 5,850,000 doses of COVID vaccine, with a current pace of roughly 774,000 doses a week.
And with more than 600,000 Australians having received two doses of vaccine, people are wondering when – and how – that status of being fully vaccinated against COVID will translate to greater levels of freedom.
‘Vaccinated Australians want more freedom, like being exempt from state border restrictions, or being able to go overseas, or quarantine at home after international travel,’ the Sydney Morning Herald wrote in a recent editorial.
‘There is a strong argument to grant this freedom, as a reward for doing the right thing and protecting the community, and as an incentive for those who are yet to receive their two shots.’
The Australian National University’s Professor Sanjaya Senanayake believes Australia’s new COVID-19 digital certificate is a ‘really big step’ in that process.
‘For the first time since March of last year, we might have a situation where people can leave their community with no COVID, go to an area which has some COVID, and return home with relatively few restrictions and still be protecting their community,’ Professor Senanayake said on the Today show last week.
How does Australia’s COVID-19 digital certificate work?
According to Federal Government Services Minister Linda Reynolds, ‘the COVID-19 digital certificate makes proof of vaccination accessible anytime, anywhere’.
The certificate is automatically generated and available on the Express Plus Medicare app for people who have had both doses of an approved vaccine – currently Pfizer or AstraZeneca, though others are on the way.
The certificate can be downloaded to a smartphone and used similarly to a digital driver’s licence. It features a coat-of-arms hologram and includes the holder’s name, date of birth and a ‘validity tick’.
People will not be required to share information about non-COVID vaccinations or other health data.
‘We’re also giving people control over the level of vaccination history they share, as the certificate only shows your COVID-19 vaccination status,’ Minister Reynolds said.
‘Once your provider has reported both doses of an approved vaccine, you’ll be able to access your COVID-19 digital certificate online through myGov or in the Express Plus Medicare app.’
Services Australia General Manager Hank Jongen has confirmed a person’s Medicare account must be linked to MyGov before the vaccine certificate can be accessed.
‘Link Medicare to your MyGov account. Once you’ve done that download the app, because that means the evidence is there in the palm of your hand,’ he said.
Minister Reynolds called linking Medicare to myGov ‘simple’.
‘I’m encouraging all Australians to ensure you’ve linked your Medicare account to myGov,’ she said.
Services Australia has an interactive tool designed to provide more information about how to access proof of COVID vaccines.
The ABC has reported people who are unable to find the certificate online or via the app can request an immunisation history statement from a vaccine provider or the Australian Immunisation Register. And the COVID-19 digital certificate will still be available for people who opted out of My Health Record because the Australian Immunisation Register is a separate database.

The certificate features a coat-of-arms hologram and includes the holder’s name, date of birth and a ‘validity tick’. (Services Australia)

Vaccine passports and travel freedoms
AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid has spoken in favour of the digital certificate.
‘Australians need to be able to prove they are vaccinated one way or another,’ Dr Khorshid told ABC Radio last week. ‘It’s going to be needed for international travel. It may well be needed in many workplaces.’
It is not yet clear, however, whether Australia’s digital certificate will be able to act as a so-called vaccine passport that will allow greater travel freedoms, whether that is quarantine-free domestic travel or international travel beyond the borders ‘fortress Australia’.
Mr Jongen said it is too early to know if the new certificate can be used in such a way.
‘What we’re trying to do is get ahead of the eight ball by ensuring that if people do need it further down the track, the digital certificate is there and available for them,’ he said.
But regardless of whether the new certificate can be used as one, vaccine passports are on the Australian agenda. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has backed the idea and recently said he believes ‘Australians would support’ a system that allows an alternative to restricted travel from COVID hotspots.
‘I think it recognises the reality that states and territories, from time to time, will be making decisions which will restrict movements of Australians across the country,’ he said.
‘Where people have been vaccinated, then … they would have the opportunity, let’s say they happen to be in another state, then they can return home to Victoria and not be kept out of their home state, or they may be able to move into other states and territories.’
Australia’s national cabinet has also ‘welcomed’ the idea, though it was made clear any use of such a passport would be up to individual states and territories.
‘States and territories may consider the potential future value of COVID-19 digital certificates when considering automatic travel exemptions for interstate travel during state-determined lockdowns and travel restrictions,’ national cabinet said.
However, the concept of a vaccine passport raises questions over issues like privacy, how they will affect people who choose not to be vaccinated and, especially in light of the slow nature of Australia’s rollout, vaccine equity.
‘Government and businesses need to be aware of the equity issues surrounding both the vaccine rollout and any associated certification scheme,’ Maria O’Sullivan, a senior lecturer and Deputy Director of the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University, recently wrote.
‘In my opinion, enforcement of vaccination passports could not occur before everyone in Australia has been given the opportunity to have the COVID vaccination.’
Professor Senanayake has raised similar concerns over the idea of a vaccine passport that would allow international travel.
‘I’m particularly thinking of culturally and linguistically diverse Australians, because we don’t want a scenario where less privileged Australians who want to get vaccinated are watching more privileged Australians get vaccinated, jet-setting around the world,’ he said. ‘That can lead to resentments.
‘We have to think of how we deal with people who have a medical exemption for vaccination, how we deal with that in a sensible and sensitive manner.’
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