Here Come Coronavirus Vaccine Passports

What Wall and Ceiling Contractors Need to Know

Joe Dysart / January 2022

Wall and ceiling contractors strangled by the dangers of the coronavirus can now guarantee a relatively safe return to offices and similar public spaces with digitized, highly verifiable “vaccine passports.”
    
Overall, the digital documents are expected to go a long way toward reassuring the people who manage public spaces—and the people who congregate there—that everyone has taken great pains to stop scourge in its tracks.
    
Plus, the digitized proofs-of-vaccine are considered extremely convenient, since they’re generally stored on smartphones, and seen as much tougher to counterfeit than government proof-of-vaccination, which is issued on paper.
    
There’s only one hitch: The emergence of these digital vaccine passports has become entangled with federal government efforts to mandate vaccines at workplaces—triggering vehement controversy across the wall and ceiling industry and beyond.
    
Industry libertarians and their ilk, for example, have a major problem with any governmental entity trying to tell them who should and should not be vaccinated at their workplaces.
    
Meanwhile, many other coronavirus-weary contractors see vaccine passports as an easy way to reassure workers—and customers—that they’re fairly well protected against the coronavirus.
    
These diametrically opposed perspectives reached a boiling point late last year when the Biden Administration tried—but failed—to virtually mandate that all employers of 100 or more get their employees vaccinated.
    
Either get your employees vaccinated, the administration telegraphed to businesses—or subject them to weekly, rigorous testing for the coronavirus.
    
“COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on workers, and we continue to see dangerous levels of cases,” said U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.
    
“Many businesses understand the benefits of having their workers vaccinated against COVID-19,” Walsh added. “And we expect many will be pleased to see this OSHA rule go into effect.”
    
Unfortunately for Walsh, that sentiment hit a wall in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The court stayed the mandate, which was supposed to be implemented by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in early November.
    
It was the first salvo in what has erupted into an ongoing battle between the Biden Administration and 11 state attorneys general over whether or not to effectively mandate coronavirus vaccines.
    
Says Austin Knudsen, Montana’s attorney general and one of the attorney generals who jointly beat back OSHA’s mandate for the time being: “If a president can unilaterally force people to submit to a medical procedure they don’t want, then there’s seemingly no limit to the federal government’s control over our lives.
    
“President Biden’s illegal mandate is an egregious overreach and sets the country down a dangerous path.”

Who Is Using It Now
As the legal battle over a vaccine mandate continues to rage, wall and ceiling contractors that do like the idea of vaccine passports will find that a number of heavy hitters from the world of health and high tech—including the Mayo Clinic, health insurer Cigna and Microsoft, for example—have already developed digital vaccine passports they can use at their workplaces.
    
The Mayo/Cigna/Microsoft vaccine passport technology, for example, is designed to enable workers and others to show proof of vaccination using their smartphones. The proof appears as a QR code that can be easily scanned with a common QR scanner.
    
The technology is already available at Walmart, where customers who get vaccinated against the coronavirus at Walmart—or at Walmart’s affiliate, Sam’s Club—can also sign up to get a QR code vaccine passport stored on their smartphone.
    
Walmart puts the certification together by working with a third party health app company, which agrees to store a customer’s proof of vaccination credentials and helps generate the QR code that appears on a customer’s phone.
    
Says John Furner, CEO and president, Walmart U.S.: “Our goal is to give customers vaccinated at Walmart free and secure digital access to their vaccine record and enable them to share that information with third parties.”
    
Adds Joan Harvey, president of care solutions at Evernorth, Cigna’s health services business, regarding the system Walmart is using: “A secure, convenient solution to verify COVID-19 vaccination will play an important role in accelerating a healthy and safe return to work, school and life in general.”
    
Meanwhile, IBM is also pushing its own digital vaccine passports. Its spin on the technology also uses a QR code that appears on a smartphone.
    
IBM officially rolled- out the digital passport in February for use in New York. But the tech is easily adaptable by other governmental entities, according to Steve LaFleche, general manager, IBM Public and Federal Market.
    
Yet another player advancing a vaccine passport solution: Mastercard. The goliath credit card company announced earlier this year that it’s partnering with the International Chamber of Commerce to come up a digitized, proof-of-vaccination solution.
    
Says Ajay Bhalla, president, cyber and intelligence, Mastercard: “Delivering a global, interoperable health pass system can only happen if we come together in a way that meets the needs of everyone involved.
    
“Together with ICC, its member organizations and our partners in the Good Health Pass Collaborative, we can work to get the world moving again and jump-start the global economic engine.”

Some Concerns
While at least some wall and ceiling contractors will most likely heave a sigh of relief when digitized coronavirus vaccine passports start becoming commonplace, market research firm Forrester cautions that those businesses and others should proceed with caution.
    
Specifically, wall and ceiling contractors endorsing vaccine passports for workers could be subject to charges of mishandling sensitive data, discrimination, protests from labor unions, diminished cybersecurity—not to mention a backlash from clients and customers who are denied access to a business without a passport.
    
Says Enza Iannopollo, a senior analyst at Forrester and author of the March 2021 Forrester report, “The Opportunity, the Unknowns, and the Risks of Vaccine Passports in the Workplace”: “Vaccine passports don’t offer the silver-bullet solution that many might hope for easing pandemic protocols and restrictions, and businesses should be planning for life with COVID-19 in the medium to long term.
    
“Our over-arching message to organizations everywhere is one of caution. With the right planning and consideration, the return to work will be smoother and more successful for all involved.”
    
Specific pitfalls Forrester cautions wall and ceiling contractors and other organizations to avoid include:
    
Vaccines are not a silver bullet. Variants along with efficacy of the vaccines mean wall and ceiling contractors must plan to continue anywhere-work policies and hybrid experiences to balance convenience with well-being.
    
No jab, no job requirements could get tricky. Asking employees of wall and ceiling businesses to carry proof of inoculation with them to enter the workplace introduces privacy and ethics risks.
    
Medical data collection should be nuanced. Wall and ceiling contractors should collect only the minimum amount of data needed to establish vaccination status. They should encrypt medical data and enforce strict access, sharing and deletion policies to ensure fairness and protection.
    
Bottom line: Mike Sicilia, executive vice president of Oracle’s Global Business Units, believes when it comes to having the reassurance that the person working next to you has been vaccinated, the benefits outweigh the risks: “This process needs to be as easy as online banking.”
    
Although a few state attorneys general might bicker with that view.

Joe Dysart is an internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan. He can be reached at (631) 307.9237, joe@gurutechalert.com and through https://gurutechalert.com.