What England’s new vaccine passport might imply for covid tech’s subsequent act

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Luca Ferrari was deeply involved in the launch of Italy’s contact tracing app, Immuni, as the CEO of its developer, Bending Spoons (the company is no longer involved in running the system). Immuni launched in June 2020, built with what Ferrari says was about 30,000 hours of donated labor—but navigating the connections between technology and public authorities was tricky. 

“Everybody we dealt with [at the government] was genuinely determined to help people,” he says. “But a slight misalignment of priorities and objectives created major headaches and slowdowns.” 

For instance, he says, Immuni required users who tested positive for covid to contact their local public health officials. But those departments were often too stretched to properly handle the requests—and so the app didn’t get used as much as originally hoped.

He also says the government allowed confusing information about the trustworthiness of the app to flourish—and waited too long to counteract it.

Still, he says, the next wave of pandemic tech can learn now from those lessons, and any future public health emergencies can benefit, too: “I would encourage authorities to try to leave the pandemic with a tool kit that we can unearth again.”

Globally, Parker and her team at the Ada Lovelace Institute have been carefully monitoring how digital vaccine credentials roll out. Last week they released a 110-page report of recommendations [pdf]. And while it’s too early to weigh up how the NHS app will fare, “they are going quite slow,” she says, “which I think is a good thing.” 

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