Are you vaccinated?

That’s a question asked by governments and businesses around the world. The answers to that question help determine how soon nations recover economically from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The success of vaccine programs varies widely worldwide, with nations such as Israel, the U.A.E., the U.S. and the U.K. fully vaccinating more than 50% of their populations. Less than 3% of the citizens of many countries, including Syria, Nigeria, Venezuela and Vietnam, are inoculated.

One tool to help restart tourism and other business and social activities is a quick, convenient, and reliable way to identify vaccinated people. Biometrics, measurements of an individual’s unique physical characteristics, offer a solution to securely authenticate the identity of people fully vaccinated. But which biometric modality is best?

Currently, fingerprint, facial and iris recognition are most often used to authenticate people’s identities. But the pandemic upended how the public views each solution. Most fingerprint readers, long the most used biometric, lacks widespread support as in most cases the technology requires contact with the device.

People wearing personal protective equipment (P.P.E.) such as masks and goggles diminished the accuracy of touchless facial recognition systems. Iris recognition, already considered the most accurate of the top three biometrics, requires no contact and is unaffected by P.P.E., including glasses and contact lenses.

Iris recognition systems use patterns found in the colored ring surrounding the pupil. These patterns, formed at birth, remain constant throughout a person’s life, enabling accurate identification of children. Even genetic twins have different iris patterns.

Enrollment into a vaccine passport system requires a photograph of the irises, creating encrypted templates that cannot be hacked to create a useable image. Authentication takes only a second as people look into iris readers mounted at public and private sites.

How would a vaccination passport work? In most cases, Q.R. codes store the small iris templates in a smartphone app. The app’s data is compared to a live reading to confirm a person is fully vaccinated. Printed versions of the Q.R. code provide I.D. for people not owning a smartphone. It’s easy keeping a person’s records up to date by adding information on potential booster vaccines to the Q.R. codes.

Iris recognition is a proven technology. For years, airlines have employed a similar QR-based system at boarding gates. Many airports added a biometric identifier to the code allowing enrolled frequent flyers to use self-service kiosks to skip lengthy security and customs lines.

It’s time we moved confidently into a post-pandemic era. Reliably knowing who is vaccinated and who is not provides valuable information needed for a return to normal activities. A vaccine passport is required as the world moves toward reopening borders and ending domestic lockdowns.

Download our recent white paper, Getting Back to Normal with Vaccine Passports, for more information about vaccine passports and the role iris-recognition technology plays.