Apps make proof of vaccination easy for customers

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Tokyo Vaction app is shown on a smartphone screen in an okonomiyaki restaurant in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo. The restaurant offers one free drink when customers show their vaccination certificate via the app.

Local governments and private companies have developed smartphone apps that allow people to quickly present proof of COVID-19 vaccination in shops and restaurants.

The central government is developing a similar app too, but its release has lagged behind the others and it won’t be available until mid-December. Although such apps are convenient for customers as they do not have to bother carrying around a physical certificate, a profusion of apps could be confusing for shops and restaurants.

On Nov. 1, the Tokyo metropolitan government launched a service to display proof of vaccination via the Line messaging app. Users register their name and birthday with the metropolitan government’s official Tokyo Vaction account, and submit identification such as their driver’s license along with photos of their vaccination certificates or records.

The government engaged Hakuhodo Inc. to develop and operate the service, and about 50 people have been hired to check every certificate manually. The service is costing about ¥1 billion including labor expenses. As of Nov. 10, more than 150,000 people had signed up.

“I hope this service will help boost the vaccination rate and lead to resumption of safe social activities,” an official of Tokyo’s Social Welfare and Public Health Bureau said.

Gunma Prefecture uses Line, too, but the difference between it and Tokyo is that vaccination records are checked automatically based on its database. Known as Gunma Vaccine Techo, the service started Oct. 13 and had more than 240,000 subscriptions as of early November.

After discussions at personal information protection review boards in its 35 municipalities, the prefecture received information on vaccination records from the municipalities and compiled the database. By doing this, it limited the cost to ¥6.7 million, partly because it hardly required any manual labor.

“We want to do what we can to reactivate the local economy, not just wait for actions from the national side,” a prefectural government official said.

Private companies are offering similar apps, too.

Tokyo-based health consulting firm MinaCare Co. has since February provided an app that allows users to register images of their vaccination records and other proof, and manage their own records. About 500,000 people have already downloaded it.

The app is easy to use regardless of where users live, and does not require them to submit ID documents to the company.

“The primary purpose is to maintain personal records,” a MinaCare spokesperson said. “When used for proof, it depends largely on a user’s conscience.”

On Nov. 8, Sompo Holdings Inc., a major insurance company, conducted a test of its app at an event hosted by Tokushima Prefecture, in the hope that it will be used widely by local governments.

Meanwhile, the central government’s app has strict identification requirements using My Number ID cards. A smartphone camera reads the information on the card, and a four-digit personal identification number set at the time of card acquisition must be entered on a designated site. It will also be linked to the government’s Vaccination Record System.

The current time is displayed along with the certificate to prevent people from deceptively presenting an image of someone else’s certificate. For overseas travel, the service will be available in English, too.

However, the My Number Card issuance rate has stagnated at about 39% of the population. “My Number Card is the highest level of identification,” Karen Makishima, minister in charge of digital transformation, said at a press conference. “We want to promote the app along with card acquisitions.”

Businesses confused

A profusion of similar apps is confusing restaurants and shops.

An okonomiyaki savory pancake restaurant in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo, offers one free drink to customers who present proof of vaccination via Tokyo Vaction.

“I hope the app will serve as motivation for people to come to our shop,” said the manager of the restaurant located near the borders of Saitama and Chiba prefectures.

However, he has not decided what to do with customers using other apps.

“I don’t know how to respond to proof shown via apps other than the one offered by Tokyo.”

A 64-year-old woman from Adachi Ward, Tokyo, who visited the restaurant with her husband on Nov. 5, said, “Restaurants that use vaccination certificates are usually highly concerned about infection control, so I feel safe eating here.”

She also added, “I’m planning a trip to Kyushu soon. It would be nice if I could use this app wherever I travel.”