Most Travel Vaccination Certificates Are Counterfeit

Digital yellow fever vaccine cards are enhanced with blockchain technology
zimbabwe bus service
Africa (Vax Before Travel)

At the main bus terminus in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, international travelers are tempted with offers of counterfeit travel vaccination certificates. Counterfeit travel vaccination certificates can greatly jeopardize disease control, stated the leaders of the World Health Organization (WHO) African region in a press statement on October 30, 2020.

A thriving black market there sells fake proof of immunization says Dr. Integrity Mchechesi in a press release, who works with an innovative technology firm to combat such forgery. Built on blockchain technology, this decentralized digital record-keeping system cannot be tampered with.

“After vaccination, the laboratories create a digital record in our system. The traveler gets a QR code on a mobile app or on paper, which is instantly verified by the border authorities, who can see where they got the vaccine and who gave it to them, as well as the batch number of the vaccine, which protects the authenticity of each and every vaccine.”

“We estimate that around 80% of yellow fever travel cards in Zimbabwe are counterfeit,” said Dr. Mchechesi, a co-founder and head of innovation at Vaxiglobal, a travel health consultancy. “All travelers need up-to-date immunization verification and our system should help cut transmission rates across borders.”

Vaxiglobal is working with laboratories in Zimbabwe and Zambia, airlines, and technology companies to build up a safe and approved digital verification system for travelers’ immunization.

“It’s often impossible for busy border authorities to verify the names of doctors, and the supposed location where vaccinations occurred, by phone or email,” added Dr. Mchechesi.

According to Dr. Mchechesi, many vaccines are left unused in Zimbabwe, which leads manufacturers to push up the price of production. By reducing the number of shelved vaccines, the initiative aims, ultimately, to help bring the price of vaccines down.

The digital verification system went live in early 2020, and in April the team worked with laboratories across Zimbabwe to use the system for COVID-19 certification. More than 1500 certificates have since been verified, and seven airlines are now using the system at Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare. 

As more of Zimbabwe’s ports reopen, the team aims to expand the system under the guidance of the Ministry of Health.

The Vaxiglobal team is in talks with South Africa’s government for a potential launch in that country and even an eventual roll-out across the 15-Members States of the Southern African Development Community.

The team is working with biometric data companies to make verification even simpler, through a cloud-based biometric data system that does not even need QR codes. 

Vaxiglobal has worked with the WHO African Innovation Team to shape, develop, and scale the initiative since 2018. 

“It has been incredibly fascinating to see Vaxiglobal’s evolving business model focused on maximizing health impact for the African population,” says Dr. Moredreck Chibi, Regional Innovation Adviser for the WHO Africa region.

According to Vaxiglobal, the only disease specifically designated in the International Health regulations (2005) for which proof of vaccination or prophylaxis may be required as a condition of entry to a State, is yellow fever. Furthermore, academic institutions and corporations can also set their own immunization regulations.

Vax-Before-Travel publishes research-based travel vaccine news.